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Home Generators (or How DTE Energy Ruined My Holidays) 695

Posted by CmdrTaco
from the can't-feel-my-toes dept.
We are among the thousands without power in the northeast. Day four actually, and we've decided to look into generators so that next year's New Year's doesn't involve fears of frozen pipes bursting and hypothermic babies and cats. At the very least we just need enough juice to run the furnace blower, but if we're going to lay down the cash I'd like to know what it would take to get a little more power ... like enough to run a fridge, router, laptop and lightbulb. I know nothing about this sort of thing, but figure there are more than a few experts out there so I call out to the wisdom of the mob. What am I looking for? How difficult is the wiring? What will it cost me? On the extreme edge, what would it take to get off the grid entirely? (And on a side note, thanks to DTE Energy for telling us we had power when we didn't, for losing the ticket for our neighborhood, for telling us it would be back every single day when it wasn't, and for the helpful DTE representative who warned us that our pipes might burst. Thanks.)
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Home Generators (or How DTE Energy Ruined My Holidays)

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  • tips (Score:4, Informative)

    by fyngyrz (762201) * on Wednesday December 31, 2008 @02:07PM (#26282445) Homepage Journal

    At a minimum, you need:

    • A fair amount of 14- or 12-gauge wire (wire is expensive... go measure)
      • wire from generator switch breaker to each device
      • wire from generator to generator switch (needs to be underground / outdoors rated)
      • wire from main service to generator switch
      • instructions are generally with generator switch - study hard. Errors can be disastrous
    • A 15A or 20A socket at each power location (fridge, furnace)
    • A manual generator to line switch ($150 or so on Ebay)
    • A generator. I suggest MINIMUM 3500 watts
      Even though a furnace doesn't pull a lot when running, at the time that the blower starts up, there can be a VERY large startup current. The fridge the same, to a lesser extent.
    • A shed -- you can't put a gas generator indoors, generally speaking - very dangerous
    • I strongly suggest a strong table to mount the generator on for maintenance
    • Some way to bolt the table down, and bolt the generator to the table
    • High temperature exhaust hose for the generator (actually kind of difficult to come by)
    • high-temperature pass through for exhaust to go thru shed wall - hot!

    You can get a lot fancier than this, but this will function perfectly as long as you are there to do the switching soon enough after power fails that your building doesn't get too close to pipe-freeze (I wouldn't want to go below 40 degrees f, pipes are often in walls that are cooler than the rest of the house.)

    If that won't do, you're looking at an auto-start system with an auto-generator switchover, and the only thing I can tell you about that is prepare your wallet for deep excavation.

    • Re:tips (Score:5, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday December 31, 2008 @02:22PM (#26282657)

      No way man - you don't need anything nearly that complicated. Since you're just covering an occasional power outage, you don't need anything permanent. Just put the generator outdoors, and run a long extension cord (or a few) inside.

      Make sure the generator is in a locked location, or at least chained down. They have a tendency to sprout legs during emergencies.

      If you want something permanently in place, you need an electrician, and no less. Because you need a huge On-Off-On lever switch to ensure you never attempt to power the house from both the generator and grid simultaneously.

      • Re:tips (Score:5, Interesting)

        by cayenne8 (626475) on Wednesday December 31, 2008 @03:03PM (#26283269) Homepage Journal
        "No way man - you don't need anything nearly that complicated. Since you're just covering an occasional power outage, you don't need anything permanent. Just put the generator outdoors, and run a long extension cord (or a few) inside.

        Make sure the generator is in a locked location, or at least chained down. They have a tendency to sprout legs during emergencies."

        I 100% agree! That's how most everyone along the coast does it durning hurricane season when they hit and take power out here. I was at a friends house during Gustav near Baton Rouge...and he had one generator we did fine on. I'm not sure the size, but, will try to ask and come back with an answer.

        But, with this one generator...we kept a window unit AC going (hot and muggy is our problem during that time of year)...we could run his 50" LCD flatpanel tv...along with DVD and stereo for entertainment...we'd also plug in cell phones, charge computers...etc. I know we had to unplug something occasionally to plug the fridge(s) and chest freezer in, to keep food good, but, over all it worked well.

        The things get pretty darned LOUD tho....but, I've heard that the Honda ones...at a premium price, and very, very quiet. Just make sure to have plenty of gasoline stocked up, and oil. We actually ran through our gas supply...and built a little dc pump out of a fuel pump, hooked to a hose and run off a car battery...to siphon gas out of their large Surburban SUV. Now..I am not a fan of SUV's....but, the thing did serve well as a tanker truck for quite a number of days. After the gas stations got back online, and actually got gas delivered to them...we filled up all our tanks...and the SUV tanks to brimming....and had plenty to last us till the electricity came back on.

        Thank goodness for gas to cook on, as well as for the water heater....and we also used the propane gas grill outside s few times too....kinda turned into a fun camping trip with them!

        • Bury the noise (Score:3, Informative)

          ... The things get pretty darned LOUD tho....but, I've heard that the Honda ones...at a premium price, and very, very quiet....

          If you put the generator in a hole in the yard, you'll have a night-and-day difference in noise levels. Just make sure that it is well-drained and set up so that no one will fall into it. Under the deck or patio is often good.

          • Re:Bury the noise (Score:4, Informative)

            by JWSmythe (446288) * <jwsmythe@nOsPaM.jwsmythe.com> on Wednesday December 31, 2008 @06:03PM (#26285549) Homepage Journal

            Rather than digging down, you can build up a small hill for the same effect.

                I bought two generators in the last few years. One was a Coleman 5500 watt, and one was a generic Chinese made 5500 watt from Walmart.

                I put the Coleman in my RV, as a temporary power source for air conditioning for a drive. Bad idea. It was so loud, even though the RV is 40' long, I couldn't talk over the sound of it. Driving, it sounded like a Harley was parked beside me. That lasted for about .. umm .. 5 miles. :)

                The Chinese one had what looks like a small car muffler on it. It's only about half as loud.

                Besides the noise level is the reliability of the generators. Both sat for the same period, about a year. Neither one would start. The Chinese generator's spark plug was oil fouled. I cleaned it, and it started right up. The Coleman has some mystery carburetor problem. It still won't start. I suspect even after cleaning the carb, I must have not gotten all the passages cleared.

                But, back to your idea... A hole will get full of water, bugs, or whatever. It may get filled by small children falling into it accidentally. A built up hole would be a better choice. Pick your spot, put down a firm foundation for the generator (a few bricks in the ground would do), put together sides around it with say lattice and screen. A few feet of 2" PVC at the bottom would be a good idea to get rid of any rain water that soaks in. Backfill dirt around it to make a small hill. A piece of plywood (preferably secured somehow) would be a good idea to keep things from falling in when you don't want them to (again, kids, water, stray animals, etc). It would be a good idea to be able to secure it open, yet covered. so if it's raining or snowing (depending on your environment), that won't get all over your nice generator that you've protected so well.

                It'll also make for a nice bunker when the revolution comes to your neighborhood. :) Just watch out for incendiary rounds near the fuel tank. Well, for that matter, near yourself too. :)

        • by d3ac0n (715594) on Wednesday December 31, 2008 @04:20PM (#26284383)

          Everyone seems to have their own method of doing this. It seems to me it's a rather simple process:

          1) Go to Home Depot store or website.

          2) Plunk down cash (or credit/debit card) for THIS [homedepot.com] plus installation costs.

          3) Enjoy whole house LP or NG powered emergency backup power.

          See? That wasn't so hard now, was it? And nobody got electrocuted in the process either.

          (yeah, yeah, I skipped the stupid ??? -> Profit! meme. So sue me.)

          • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

            by radish (98371)

            Now that's what I'm talking about! On my wishlist for next Christmas :)

          • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday December 31, 2008 @05:12PM (#26284979)

            CAUTION: YOU MAY KILL SOMEONE IF YOU DO NOT TURN YOUR HOUSE'S MAIN BREAKERS TO OFF!
            * If you leave the Main Breakers ON you will backfeed power to the entire neighborhood, and the power workers think the lines are dead. Very bad.
            * Technically, you need an electrician to wire a breaker/cut-off switch to the generator. In this manner when you switch the generator connection to ON you also switch the Main Breakers to OFF. Expensive, but safe and complies with NEC.
            * Most people just use a male to male plug, plug one end into the generator, and the other into some house outlet. If you turn the Main Breakers OFF ~BEFORE~ you do this, it is possible to get power to everything in your house, limited by the breaker capacity and the power generation capacity, and not feed the neighborhood. The relative safety of this is up to others to argue.
            * IF THIS MAKES NO SENSE TO YOU, SEEK PROFESSIONAL HELP. Or at least a neighbor with a subscription to Popular Electronics. Your local linemen will thank you!

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by aurispector (530273)

        The first thing you need to do is define your needs. If blackouts are only occasional, your planning is similar to planning a camping trip in your house.

        My father has a professionally installed generator with all the bells and whistles - he lives south of Sarasota and has fairly frequent power outages due to the hurricanes. This was needed since the well water pump is electric. I first thought it was overkill, but he's in his 80's and can no longer deal with blackouts himself.

        Unless you're need is both f

        • Re:tips (Score:4, Interesting)

          by Skater (41976) on Wednesday December 31, 2008 @03:55PM (#26284079) Homepage Journal

          Good advice. I have a generator and a manual transfer switch set up, and I did the "define needs" process, too. Since we'd just had an ice storm that knocked out power for two days, I knew exactly what I would've liked to run off the generator.

          In my case, I'd have a generator anyway, because it's permanently mounted in my camper (I probably wouldn't bother otherwise). Also, the generator in the camper was new; I'd just had it replaced a few months before the ice storm, so being able to use it for backup power was a nice bonus.

          I bought a small 15 amp transfer switch for four circuits and had it installed. I verified the installation using a multimeter to make sure I wouldn't be electrocuting anyone and to make sure everything operated the way I expected. It took half an hour or so but now I KNOW there are no problems.

          The generator can produce 2500 watts, but I went with a 15-amp transfer switch because that's all I needed for the circuits I wanted to power. Since my generator isn't that large (20 amps max), a 15-amp switch was fine and I knew I wouldn't be able to power more than one, possibly two, circuits at once. No problem.

          The four circuits I chose were:
          1. Furnace fan (I have natural gas heat)
          2. Kitchen lighting/outlets
          3. Master bedroom and bathroom lighting/outlets
          4. Refrigerator

          The main point was to be able to keep food, keep the house from freezing, be able to use the bathrooms, and be able to sleep in the master bedroom (possibly using an electric space heater if necessary). I actually got more than I really needed, but only because my house has relatively few circuits wired and a lot of things are on the same circuits (the house was built in 1964).

          Why not just stay in the camper? Because, during the winter, I have it winterized, so I can't use the water system, and it sits at an odd angle in the driveway, making it uncomfortable to sleep in. I did make some spaghetti one night during the outage (propane stove in the camper), but with everything so far off level, you really have to be careful what you cook and what pan you use.

      • Re:tips (Score:4, Insightful)

        by sunderland56 (621843) on Wednesday December 31, 2008 @03:38PM (#26283833)

        If you want something permanently in place, you need an electrician, and no less. Because you need a huge On-Off-On lever switch to ensure you never attempt to power the house from both the generator and grid simultaneously.

        This point is extremely important. Things like furnaces are usually hardwired into the house electrical system - so you can't just "unplug" it and plug it in to an extension to your generator. As a result, many people build themselves a "male to male" extension cord - a power line null modem, if you will - and plug one end into the generator, the other end into any house outlet. That reverse-powers the entire house.

        However, it also provides entertainment when the AC power comes back on line.

        If you're going to do this, then (a) turn off the house from the AC at the main breaker FIRST; (b) plug the male-male extension into the house first, then into the generator last (otherwise you're walking around with a power cord with a LIVE male end). But, it is still not recommended.

        Also note that if you do this... you have no way of knowing when the power comes back.

        • Re:tips (Score:4, Interesting)

          by Vellmont (569020) on Wednesday December 31, 2008 @04:42PM (#26284657)


          Things like furnaces are usually hardwired into the house electrical system - so you can't just "unplug" it and plug it in to an extension to your generator.

          So wire up your furnace so it plugs into an outlet. Mine is exactly like this (already done by a previous owner). It's easy enough to do yourself, and will save you a lot of effort if the power ever goes out when it's cold.

          As a result, many people build themselves a "male to male" extension cord

          Sounds inherently dangerous. I'd rather not someone trip on an extension cord and pull out a live wire with live ends ends sticking out.

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by hawg2k (628081)
          Yes, and a lot of people do this with 220/240 and their electric close dryer outlet. Couple things to keep in mind.

          1. Always have everything turned off when working with a cord with two male plug ends. Otherwise, when one end is plugged and the other isn't, you have a nice arc welder. A few extra minutes of running up and down your stairs may save your life.
          2. Let the generator warm up first (see #4), then shut down and g to #1. Otherwise, when the furnace blower surges and your generator dies, you

        • Re:tips (Score:5, Informative)

          by Harik (4023) <Harik@chaos.ao.net> on Wednesday December 31, 2008 @05:41PM (#26285321)

          Indeed. A 200 amp manual transfer switch can be found for $400 online. This gives you the ability to have a male plug coming out of the transfer switch that can never be powered by the utility - if it's connected, the mains are disconnected.

          They usually come in the form of a breaker box. Installation isn't trivial, but it's not exceptionally difficult. First, identify what circuits are "must have" during a blackout. This would be:

          • furnace blower, HVAC (in hot climates like florida)
          • food storage (fridge, freezer, deep freeze)
          • lighting
          • well pump if you don't have city water,
          • pipe heaters for those of you up north
          • food prep - electric ranges are probably too much load, but you may be able to run a small or midsize microwave. If you have a gas stove with electric controls, power it as well.
          • a few marked outlets specifically as on generator, so you can charge phones/run your laptop/listen to the radio/whatever.

          Next, wire in your transfer switch to your main breaker box. Some go on their own 200amp breaker, others may be wired directly to the rails. TURN OFF YOUR MAIN BREAKER BEFORE WORKING ON YOUR SYSTEM. Read the manual to your transfer switch carefully, incorrect installation can be extremely dangerous.

          Once the new subpanel is installed, you can move your protected circuits to it one-by-one. With mains power off, remove the breaker from your main panel, put it in the subpanel, and move the associated wires. Don't forget to replace the hole in your main panel with a blank, or you'll have a safety hazard. Once all the circuits are transferred, make a male plug for the AC input to the transfer switch that uses a heavy gauge connector (200a for a 200a switch). You may be able to skimp there as long as your extension cord is rated above the BREAKER on your generator. Not the rated power, but what it actually trips at.

          With all that, a startup tip would be to power up the generator, turn OFF all the circuits in the subpanel, switch the input to the generator, and power them up one by one.

          And please PLEASE check local code before trying this yourself. I have left things out that vary from state to state, and some other details that you have to know before trying something like this (what gauge wire to use between the main panel and your transfer switch, for instance). If you have a friend who is a LICENSED electrician you should definitely ask them to look over your plan, and inspect your final work before you use it.

          Finally, not every locale allows owner-improvements to electrical systems, and you may have to use a licensed contractor.

        • by rewt66 (738525) on Wednesday December 31, 2008 @06:00PM (#26285515)

          After you turn off the main breaker, put a padlock on it. This prevents anyone who "wants to be helpful" or "knows what they're doing" from turning your main breaker back on.

          Also note that your house probably has two phases. With this approach, you probably need to wire them together. If you do this in the house breaker box, do it before you connect your alternate power. Note well: Anything that depends on 220 V power is unusable with this approach. That may well include the high settings on an electric range.

          We did this for three days in a winter storm when I was a kid (neighbors were on the corner and had power up a different street; they ran us an extension cord). These tips I learned from watching what my dad did.

        • Re:tips (Score:5, Informative)

          by xous (1009057) on Wednesday December 31, 2008 @06:20PM (#26285745) Homepage
          This shouldn't even be suggested. Buy a bloody ATS. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Transfer_switch [wikipedia.org]
    • Re:tips (Score:5, Informative)

      by MightyMartian (840721) on Wednesday December 31, 2008 @02:24PM (#26282677) Journal

      I just ran heavy (15amp rated) extension cords this year when our power went out. I'm wiring up my shed this spring, so I'll already have a back ho out digging the ditch to run the underground wire, so I'm going to run a spare three pole 10-gauge direct burial (will cost some bucks) along with the main run out to the shed. I'll wire up a few outlets around my house that connect specifically to the generator (which is an el-cheapo Walmart 3500 watt gas unit), because a) the generator ain't big enough to power my panel and b) to do so in my neck of the woods requires a cut off so you're not rendering your incoming power line hot.

      A bit of advice I got when I bought the generator was that you don't need to run your fridge and freezer all the time, providing you open them infrequently. Every few hours just plug them in, let the compressors bring the temperature down, and then unplug them. At the very least, don't keep the fridge door open while you ponder whether to use hot mustard or not. As you say, many electrical devices that don't draw a lot of power while in use can draw a lot of power at startup (cranking is I think the technical name). Even TVs can draw considerable juice when you first turn them on, so you probably will not want to put all your devices and appliances on a power bar and then flip the switch, but rather turn on each device one at a time.

      Another thing my manual makes very clear is that the generator should be properly grounded. I didn't do that this year, but as I said, when I wire up my shed, I'm going to have to use a grounding rod anyways (since I'm putting in a subpanel) so I'll just bond the generator to that. 20 amps and 120 volts is enough to cook you good in the right circumstances.

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by Muad'Dave (255648)

        ...I'm going to run a spare three pole 10-gauge direct burial (will cost some bucks) along with the main run out to the shed.

        You might want to check to see if #6 aluminum wire is cheaper than #10 copper. Since you're going to run it between panels, it should be no problem - they all seem to have Cu/Al lugs and a little NoAlOx goes a long way. That'll give you some spare capacity, too. (#10 copper UF = 30A, #6 Al UF = 40A).

    • Re:tips (Score:5, Informative)

      by Muad'Dave (255648) on Wednesday December 31, 2008 @02:24PM (#26282685) Homepage
      I wouldn't go the route of running all that extra wire. They sell 6 circuit generator switches [homedepot.com] for that exact purpose - you move the desired circuits from your main panel into this little box, and hook you generator to it via a standard twistlock connector on a flexible cord. When the power fails, roll the genny to the panel, plug it in, fire it up, and flip the switch. If you know evil weather is coming, pre-stage the genny and cover it with a barbecue grill cover until you have to fire it up. Once it's hot, rain and snow won't bother it.
    • Re:tips (Score:5, Informative)

      by InlawBiker (1124825) on Wednesday December 31, 2008 @02:28PM (#26282737)

      I've gone through enough power outages to do what you're wanting. This is a good list but I can simplify it a bit.

      1. You'll need a transfer switch to connect your generator into your home's wiring. It is possible (but probably illegal) to back-feed your generator into your home. Improper backfeeding will send power back up the line, creating a danger to the line workers.

      A transfer switch essentially allows your generator to become the power source to your home while cutting off your city power. You can do this yourself or hire an electrician, it's not real expensive. Here's a simple diagram [electrical-online.com].

      2. Next figure out what size generator to get. There are many calculators out there to guide you. Essentially you add up the wattage of each appliance and buy a generator with about 20% extra.

      An example, I have a 3000w generator, it runs 2 fridges, the gas furnace fan, most of the lights, maybe some music. It's very quiet and luggable. We turn off lights when not in use and leave the TV off, but could probably run it.

      Depending on how close your neighbors are you might want to check the decibel level of your gen-set. The cheapo ones work great but are very loud.

      • Re:tips (Score:4, Interesting)

        by davmoo (63521) on Wednesday December 31, 2008 @03:35PM (#26283803)

        Its not only "probably illegal", in most places in the US its very illegal. The cord used to back-feed a house that way is referred to as a "dead man cord". The reason for that is because besides back-feeding your house, if you don't throw a transfer switch you are also back-feeding part of your neighborhood's wiring. This will make the linemen who are repairing that wiring at the least very unhappy, and in all likelihood it will make them very dead.

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Cornwallis (1188489) *
      This guy is going to get a lot of people killed. Mount a generator on a table? High temperature exhaust hose for the generator (actually kind of difficult to come by)
    • by hAckz0r (989977) on Wednesday December 31, 2008 @02:32PM (#26282795)
      When you wire in your core devices that need continued power it is good to use a set of automatic transfer switches. When the grid power is up the electricity flows like normal, but when the generator us up the switches divert the inputs for those devices to the generator. When your power comes back up you simply turn off the generator and everything goes back to normal. If you buy the expensive whole house generator models they should come with this equipment, but you can buy them at your local hardware store, or eBay, for the low end generators. Having everything pre-wired saves a lot of fumbling around in the dark playing with kinked cords and potential high voltage, and a lot fewer headaches. No more pulling all refrigerators out just to plug them into the generator any more. Been there, done that. What I have that needs power has it as soon as I turn the key and pull the cord.
    • Re:tips (Score:4, Informative)

      by hardie (716254) on Wednesday December 31, 2008 @02:37PM (#26282861)

      "I know nothing about this sort of thing.."
      I strongly advise having someone who does do the installation.
      You *must* have a switch that disconnects your house from your service drop. This is not a small switch--typical would be a 100A disconnect. If you don't, your generator will feed the service and present a huge danger to the people trying to restore your power. Ours allows the house to be powered off of either the generator or the utility, with no way for the utility and generator to be connected.

      We bought an 8kW generator when we moved to Maine five years ago. My first thought was to buy a larger unit, but there's a problem with this idea. Compare fuel consumption fully loaded and at half load. IIRC, half load still consumes about 3/4 of the full load fuel. Generators become much less efficient at low loads--this means that you want to size it right, not oversize it. Running a generator isn't cheap.

      I added up what we would typically have running and I think I came up with 4 or 5 kW. Bumping it up to 8kW seemed reasonable. Everything runs fine except the microwave (which acts browned out), and I don't use my plasma cutter or arc welder when we're on generator.

      Steve

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by gavinsgramma (1442317)
      We purchased a Natural Gas powered from a store here called Farm and Fleet. It has it's own breaker box and it automatically switches over to generator with in short period of time after the power goes, there is some delay since our power sometimes just flickers. It also kicks off when the power returns. It powers all of our refrigerators, freezers sump pumps, furnace pump, some lights and of course the computer equipment. You can get them to power the entire house. Ours was about $1700. for the generator a
  • by Tubal-Cain (1289912) * on Wednesday December 31, 2008 @02:09PM (#26282473) Journal

    I'd like to know what it would take to get a little more power... like a fridge

    This coming from the can't-feel-my-toes department? Put it outside!

    router, laptop and a lightbulb.

    Laptop first. It is marginally useful without the router. The router is useless without the laptop or some other computer. It also provides all the light you should need (though maybe not all your wife needs)

    I suggest you go and get a small generator immediately. Murphy's Law (or something like it) demands that power be back on before you get home or immediately after you get it hooked up.

  • by Junior J. Junior III (192702) on Wednesday December 31, 2008 @02:13PM (#26282523) Homepage

    This is CmdrTaco -- he's saving electricity by turning off the spellchecker to conserve power, while running off of battery backup. Obviously.

  • Pipes bursting (Score:5, Informative)

    by Shimmer (3036) <brianberns@gmail.com> on Wednesday December 31, 2008 @02:13PM (#26282529) Homepage Journal

    Might be best to turn off the water entirely and drain the pipes rather than risk a burst.

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      Actually this is much worse as your risk having the pipes connecting the house to the aqueduc burst.

      The best way is to have a small thread of water running from a faucet, for both the hot and cold water taps. Depending on the layout of the plumbing there might be a need for 2 or 3 faucets to be running.

  • I have to ask, because it is beautifully spaced, with few or no spelling errors. I have to assume that since the power is out, that it's not a computer. Did you post in Plain Old Text or was your message HTML Formatted? I just have to know. Also how are you keeping it charged? Are the regular phones working in your area? If the battery dies on whatever device you are using, are you able to make emergency calls?
    • by Sir_Lewk (967686)
      Sorry, but my bet is he probably isn't doing much reading of comments right now. (more so than usual...)
  • by hargrand (1301911) on Wednesday December 31, 2008 @02:14PM (#26282541)
    ... I object to your derrogatory and inflamatory efforts to drive my net asset value down.
  • by Just Some Guy (3352) <kirk+slashdot@strauser.com> on Wednesday December 31, 2008 @02:15PM (#26282551) Homepage Journal

    A lot of people in cold climates have backup (or even primary) wood stoves for heat. The main problem is that these have electric fans to blow super-hot air from around the stove's inner box into the room. Now, given that it's cold outside when you're building fires and very hot inside the stove itself, is there some way to directly convert the heat difference into enough electricity to drive the stove's fan?

    Seriously, these things can potentially put out tremendous amounts of heat, probably enough to keep the pipes from freezing in a medium-sized house and certainly enough to cook simple foods. I'd think that a self-powered version would be extremely appreciated.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by corsec67 (627446)

      A lot of people in cold climates have backup (or even primary) wood stoves for heat.

      In Colorado, the only kind of wood stoves that I have seen that use electricity are pellet stoves [wikipedia.org], whereas wood stoves don't need any power at all. You just put logs in, get them burning, and that is it. Are you talking about a wood burning whole house furnace with forced air? That isn't exactly a "wood stove".

      My family primarily uses wood to heat the house, with trees we cut down from the neighbors property. The forest here

      • by speroni (1258316)

        My brother in law retro-fit a wood burning furnace on to his 100 year old house's existing hot-water radiator heat.

      • Are you talking about a wood burning whole house furnace with forced air?

        Nope. I'm talking about a wood stove [buckstove.com], either free-standing or set into a fireplace. You start the fire then adjust the damper and air vents to control how quickly the wood burns, and the blowers remove what would otherwise be a dangerous amount of heat into the surrounding room. My parents have two of these in different living rooms and one in the basement. When you have it tweaked right and the fans running on full blast, you can't stand to be within several feet of it for more than a minute or two. T

    • by u38cg (607297)
      IANAT, but that sounds like a job for a Stirling Engine.
    • by Agripa (139780) on Wednesday December 31, 2008 @02:26PM (#26282709)

      is there some way to directly convert the heat difference into enough electricity to drive the stove's fan

      Thermally driven fans are available for wood stoves. The ones I have seen mount inline with the exhaust pipe and use the thermal temperature difference to operated the fan but stove mounted ones for just circulating air around the stove are available also.

  • by Muad'Dave (255648) on Wednesday December 31, 2008 @02:15PM (#26282555) Homepage
    I just built a new house, and had a 20kW Generac air-cooled generator [generac.com] installed along with a 200A automatic transfer switch and buried 1,000 gallon propane tank. It can run on propane or natural gas, and is manly enough to run my whole house. I have heat pumps with backup propane furnaces. The outside units are small enough so that I do not have to sequence the startup of the compressors, but I could do that if necessary (and may anyway). It self-tests once a week. All told, minus the tank (since many/most of you will have NG service), about $8,000 installed and tested. Well worth it for totally automatic, no-worries switchover even if we're away.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by zappepcs (820751)

      This company has several options, and there are others. This is as close to professional grade as you can get cheaply. There are cheaper options that utilize a mandraulic process, but that doesn't help if you are on the west coast for holidays when the power drops. Don't forget to figure maintenance costs as it's not a one time charge for such a system. Most people ignore maintenance costs for heaters and A/C units and just repair when it breaks, but this is something you want to make sure works regularly.

      I

  • by Wonko the Sane (25252) * on Wednesday December 31, 2008 @02:16PM (#26282557) Journal

    Bottom line: Permanent home backup generators can be purchased for $3000 - $6000 + installation labor.

    If you have natural gas available then I highly recommend using it for your backup generator, since outages are very rare and you won't ever need to worry about storing fuel.

    If you house is like most, then your incoming service is 100 amp/220 split-phase. This means that a ~22 KW generator would give you 100% backup, but really most people don't use more than 80% of their service, so this setup [mainpowerconnect.com] should provide full capacity backup for almost anyone. If that's not enough, then move up to the 30 KW model. Kohler makes generators big enough to power your entire neighborhood if you are willing to buy it.

    Wiring is not difficult, but depending on your experience level and your desire to obey the local electrical code, you should consider hiring a licensed electrician.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by zarthrag (650912)
      In addition, these types of generators (in the 10kw and under range) can even run on propane in the super rare event of a gas outage - ours accepts dual propane tanks and can run 12 hrs - not that we've ever needed to resort to that.
    • by mykepredko (40154) on Wednesday December 31, 2008 @02:33PM (#26282819) Homepage

      Just a comment - we've had a Kohler 15kW Natural Gas powered generator that automatically comes on if power is interrupted for more than 10 seconds for the past year. We've needed it a couple of times now for multi-hour interruptions and it's worked well with the following comments:
      1. Get an electrician that knows what he's doing and has experience with automated generators. I spelled out how everything was supposed to be wired and the bozo our contractor hired didn't trust my work beforehand and refused to wire up things like our refrigerator because he thought it drew too much current and then didn't believe my calculations
      2. When you look at different generators, you will see that going to a water cooled unit (which is generally what you get when you are in the 22kW range) doubles the price. The 15kW units don't power the whole house, but more than enough to be liveable - you should get your Furnace, Air Conditioning (power goes out in the summer too), kitchen, basic computers & internet service, a couple of bedrooms and a TV/etc. working comfortably
      3. The generators need maintenance. Plan on $500 or more a year - you can't do this yourself unless you are licensed for working around natural gas.
      4. The units will test themselves once a week. Make sure they come on when nobody's going to be bothered
      5. Don't try to do it yourself, the installation is somewhat expensive ($1,500-$2,000) and then you have to do the interior wiring (hooking up the Automated Transfer Switch (ATS) and deciding which circuits should be used).
      6. The pricing of the units change during the year and what's going on. Right now would probably be the worst possible time to buy one - I wouldn't be surprised that their prices haven't doubled in your area. You should be looking in the late spring before hurricane season is the best.

      myke

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by Wonko the Sane (25252) *

        The 15kW units don't power the whole house, but more than enough to be liveable - you should get your Furnace, Air Conditioning (power goes out in the summer too), kitchen, basic computers & internet service, a couple of bedrooms and a TV/etc. working comfortably

        That would depend on exactly how your house is configured. Heating, water heater, clothes dryer and stove could be gas or electric. If all of those were gas, then 15 KW should be more than enough for all your other loads.

        If you take your electri

    • by LOTHAR, of the Hill (14645) on Wednesday December 31, 2008 @02:59PM (#26283205)

      Make sure that your natural gas generator is running a genuine copy of Microsoft Windows Vista. You will find that your generator is much more reliable with Windows Vista as long as you keep your system up to date and have anti-virus, spyware protection, and firewall utilities installed.

  • by plasmacutter (901737) on Wednesday December 31, 2008 @02:16PM (#26282563)

    Home improvement stores, meijer, wal-mart, et-al are still open right now.

    Go there, get one, get gas, bingo.

    Why "next year"?

    • by TheMeuge (645043)

      Insightful and PRACTICAL +1

      Honda makes some great generators... 3-4kW should be sufficient for your purposes.

      However, you should also look at where you're losing your heat. If you insulate your home well, you'll have to heat it a lot less in the winter, which is very relevant, if you're going to be doing it with a generator.

    • Why "next year"?

      Because he wants a permanent solution. (which likely will take more than a day to get installed)

  • My dad lives in rural Michigan. He's got a natural gas generator. It powers the important circuits. It has worked wonderfully (over several years) when the electricity has failed. Sorry, I don't know much about hookup mechanics.

  • mmmmm... (Score:5, Funny)

    by religious freak (1005821) on Wednesday December 31, 2008 @02:18PM (#26282589)

    hypothermic babies and cats

    mmmmmm, frozen tacos - yum

    /Homer

  • The dirty way (Score:5, Informative)

    by ShooterNeo (555040) on Wednesday December 31, 2008 @02:20PM (#26282613)

    There's a dirty, and illegal way to do it.

    First, if you follow these instructions, remember this KEY STEP
                      TURN OFF THE MAIN SWITCH. Also, NEVER turn that main switch on if the generator is running.
                      Finally, the main switch MUST be double throw.

    Forget to follow these instructions, and you can very easily kill a lineman or blow up your generator.

    Anyways, you just need a three pronged dryer plug, 2 of them, and sufficient length of heavy gauge wire. You create an illegal male - male 3 pronged plug, and connect your generator socket into the 3 pronged plug in your house used for the clothes dryer.

    The reason it is illegal is because this form of installation does not prevent you from connecting your generator to the wiring outside your house. If you left the main switch on, you can energize the dead lines outside with 12,000 volts and kill a lineman.

    The advantage? As long as the main switch is double throw, and you don't turn it on when the generator is connected, it is pretty safe. And cheap : a double throw switch and circuit box is $200-$500, while this method can be done for $10.

    • by jank1887 (815982) on Wednesday December 31, 2008 @03:01PM (#26283245)
      i don't know, they way some offenses performed this past weekend, I can see quite a few linemen winding up on people's hitlists.
    • Re:The dirty way (Score:5, Informative)

      by vlm (69642) on Wednesday December 31, 2008 @03:07PM (#26283341)

      Forget to follow these instructions, and you can very easily kill a lineman or blow up your generator.

      1) Far more likely you'll vaporize your generator. Hook up a 3 KW generator to an entire neighborhood drawing maybe 300 kW and your generator goes poof. The only way you'll kill a lineman if the broken line feeds only your house and the break is an open circuit as opposed to short. Worst case is in between, turning a torn line tangled in a tree into a multi-KW space heater... Kind of like one of those electric charcoal starters but on a much larger scale.

      2) The "real" reason it's illegal is, as you'll quickly discover, a male to male cable will probably fall out of the dryer plug at some point and then you've got a couple KW at 220 volts on large bare copper connectors less than an inch apart in a pitch dark room on the floor, or perhaps it'll hit something somewhat conductive on its way to the ground and start a huge fire, or perhaps the kids will play with it and get vaporized. The most likely failure mode of this experiment is electrocution of yourself and/or your family rather than a lineman. After all, the linemen are already working with live power on the "other" side of the broken line... they know what to do, and you don't.

      3) You'll also quickly discover that you can't start up your furnace, water heater, sump pump, TV, and microwave all at the same instant although they may all run steady state. Expect alot of fun when the fridge and sump pump simultaneously start up, especially at 2am. You'll get lots of practice reseting breakers and restarting the generator.

      4) Built in "permanent" generators are generally built to run and refuel 24x7. "Portables" generally are built to run a tankful and get put away till tomorrow. Portables will have some inherent design engineering "issues" such as gas caps next to red hot mufflers. So be really careful whem refilling. Hurry up and you'll turn into a torch. Also your 4 cycle will inevitably run out of oil at some point, hope you're checking the oil and/or the low oil shutoff works before the engine is trashed.

      5) Since this is probably one of the most dangerous things you can possibly do, try not to do anything without thinking about each step very pessimistically. Also no booze, no waking up at 2am to refuel while half asleep. The greatest danger is doing something stupid, and being lucky, so you do it again until you croak.

      Other than that, no problem.

    • Re:The dirty way (Score:4, Insightful)

      by sjames (1099) on Wednesday December 31, 2008 @04:08PM (#26284225) Homepage

      First, I believe you mean double POLE, not double throw. If you're making a fundamental error like that, then you REALLY mustn't use a setup where a simple human error can kill people.

      Second, it's illegal and irresponsible because it is way too easy for a simple human error to get people killed. If you're going to spend a few thousand on a generator that is even vaguely capable of handling a whole house (as opposed to a smaller emergency generator and a few heavy duty drop cords), $200-$500 isn't a lot to assure human safety.

      Keep in mind too, that if your setup is discovered, you can be permanently disconnected from the grid. If a lineman hears a generator running and sees a power cord running in to your house, he will check it out. The fact that you did it right THAT time will not dissuade him from reporting you (it's HIS life on the line)! If your setup actually does injure or kill someone you will be charged.

      This is one of those things that is technically possible but should NEVER be done in practice.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by xrayspx (13127)
      A less scary way is to run whatever you want to run through a relatively large APC, and plug the APC into the generator. I found a 3000w APC was enough to power 15 machines long enough for me to get my homemade romex extension cable and get the generator running.
  • My recommendations (Score:5, Informative)

    by rongage (237813) on Wednesday December 31, 2008 @02:21PM (#26282621)

    The first thing you want is a natural gas powered generator, not gasoline. Nothing like having to take a trip to the local gas station (presuming THEY have power) to fill up the generator every 8 hours or so. This, by definition, will make the generator a stationary unit (not on wheels, designed to be bolted down to a concrete pad).

    Next, you want a generator with auto-start, auto-transfer with manual return. You want the thing to automatically kick in if the power dies, but YOU should be in control of when it decides to return to the grid. Nothing like finding out that the power died 10 minutes after you and the family left the house for a couple of days and coming back to a cold house with no power and potentially burst pipes.

    Wattage - you will want at least a 5000 watt unit for whole-house use. Forget this idea of running power cords everywhere - unless you like the idea of tripping over power cords everywhere. With the transfer switch mentioned above, the generator takes the place of the grid so your internal house wiring will continue to serve it's duty.

    There are several manufacturers of house generator systems. You can find low-end units at places like Home Depot or Lowes. Better units are best obtained from an electrical wholesale house.

    Do yourself a huge favor here and hire a licensed electrician to do the work. It'll get done right the first time, the electrical inspector won't get excited (in a negative way) when he sees the work, and the odds of "something going wrong" go way down.

    From another guy in Michigan (Westland)...

    • by Captain Nitpick (16515) on Wednesday December 31, 2008 @03:29PM (#26283689)

      Nothing like having to take a trip to the local gas station (presuming THEY have power) to fill up the generator every 8 hours or so.

      THIS IS A MAJOR ISSUE.

      When you have a massive area-wide power outage, three things happen with regards to gas stations.

      First, many of them lose power. Gas pumps do not run without power. Until the station itself gets generators set up, it's useless.

      Second, everybody else with generators is going to be crowding into the gas stations to try to buy fuel.

      Third, odds are whatever caused the widespread power outage is also screwing up the fuel distribution system. The gas stations may not have any fuel to sell.

    • Do yourself a huge favor here and hire a licensed electrician to do the work. It'll get done right the first time, the electrical inspector won't get excited (in a negative way) when he sees the work, and the odds of "something going wrong" go way down.

      While I don't disagree with ANY of your post, this statement is by far the absolute most important/best comment that will be posted to this thread.

      Really, if you're asking slashdot about what you need, thats fine, get input so you can avoid the possiblity of

  • by Gordonjcp (186804) on Wednesday December 31, 2008 @02:22PM (#26282645) Homepage

    ... but I'd look at surplus "permanent" diesel generators, and a dedicated genny shed. These will often be much, much cheaper than a new, smaller generator. Also, older kit tends to have been built well to begin with, and with repair and maintenance in mind - something that a lot of el-cheapo Chinese 80-quid-out-of-Lidl generators aren't.

    If you buy a seriously large genny you may be able to split the costs with your neighbours - 30kW ought to do at least a couple of houses if you're careful. Ten years ago we used to have very frequent power cuts up north, and one enterprising chap bought a 10kW genny on a trailer which he towed round to people's houses every day to freeze their freezers for a small fee ;-)

    I wouldn't bother with petrol-engined gennies - they're far more trouble than they're worth and will just plain not start when you need them. They also need constant servicing even when they're not used, and you need to keep fresh fuel in them - so that means either buying fuel and keeping the tank and carb dry (just what you need to sort out on a cold dark night), or running them pretty much every month enough to use a few gallons of petrol. Stick with diesels, they're simpler, easier to work on, and more reliable anyway.

    It goes without saying that if you live in an area prone to power cuts, you should avoid electric heating and electric cookers. Don't run an electric cooker off the genny, it will guzzle fuel. If you have an electric cooker, get a petrol camping stove like one of the Coleman dual-burner ones, or a gas camping stove. A caravan/RV stove would be good, but will take up more space. I used to use a single-burner gas stove which took disposable gas bottles like large spray cans, but it was uneconomic to run. My petrol stove was quite expensive to buy, but much, *much* cheaper to run - plus if I run out of fuel I can just pump some from my car ;-)

    You may be able to run your furnace blower from a large inverter, but they are typically not rated to run inductive loads for long. In the UK, we use small efficient blower motors in most boilers, which will run off a couple of hundred watts at most. The big old blowers with a squirrel-cage motor the size of a beer keg are long gone, something to be glad of ;-)

  • by Cyclopedian (163375) on Wednesday December 31, 2008 @02:24PM (#26282681) Journal

    If you get the chance to move out, consider getting a Passive House, where it has super-thick insulation and is hermetically sealed. You wouldn't have to worry about frozen pipes in that kind of setup.

    http://www.nytimes.com/2008/12/27/world/europe/27house.html [nytimes.com]

    • If you get the chance to move out, consider getting a Passive House, where it has super-thick insulation and is hermetically sealed. You wouldn't have to worry about frozen pipes in that kind of setup.

      Not for long, anyway.

  • by tgd (2822) on Wednesday December 31, 2008 @02:32PM (#26282801)

    Every state and town has different rules about how it all needs to be set up.

    In some places, like Massachusetts, you can't do any of the install yourself. You have to have a licensed electrician do it.

    As a tip, get a generator that uses an inverter. They run quieter and are less likely to damage electronics if you run out of fuel with them.

    You also, pretty much everywhere, have to have a proper transfer switch to disconnect the grid power any time there is any electricity being sent into your house by the generator -- otherwise you will energize the power lines around your house and could kill a line worker.

    But generally, you really need to talk to someone who knows the answer locally for you.

  • Assuming you wanted to power your fridge, furnace circuits & blower, a small TV and a microwave (and never all at the same time), how do you calculate how big of a generator you need?
  • by Sycraft-fu (314770) on Wednesday December 31, 2008 @02:36PM (#26282853)

    As with most things. Basically you can buy a generator of any capacity you like. For small things, like a few lights and a heater and such, pretty much any one will do. Turns out that engines generate a rather lot of power in comparison to what most household items use. As a reference 1 horsepower = 745 watts. Gives you a little perspective on the amazing amount of power in a 200hp car engine.

    Now this kind of thing would cost you somewhere in the range of $200-700 probably depending on size. It'll be a portable unit, gas powered. You'd wheel it outside, fire it up, and run an extension cord to your devices. Something to note though is the power is rather dirty. These small ones aren't so stable with the output. I don't know that you'd want to hook anything like a computer to it. Do so, and you might burn it out. For that you'd probably have to get a high quality DC inverter and hook it to the DC output (most small generators have a DC output). You'll also need to deal with the fuel. Gas isn't stable, you can't just keep a tank around for years. You'll have to periodically use the fuel and get more. You'll also want to keep extra fuel, past what it's tank can hold, since they usually aren't that large (5-20 hours worth or so normally). Finally, they are really noisy, like 90dB close up. Might bother some people.

    Another option is a full home backup generator. These are modified car engines hooked to generators. They produce enough power to do an entire home. You wire them in to your breaker box, usually with an automatic transfer switch (though you can do manual transfer if you like). When the power dies, the generator fires up and transfers over. You then use your outlets as normal.

    These generally run off of propane or natural gas (really large ones use diesel but you won't need that). If you have gas to your house, that makes fueling real simple. You simply take it from that. You never worry about refueling. If not, you install a propane tank, which you likely already have, and use that. Run time is really only limited by available fuel, and they come in sizes as large as you like. They also produce power stable enough that it is fine to run electronics on it. Hell, they have better power than some parts of the grid.

    Downsides are size and cost. They are big, immobile things. You are going to have to have it installed and it is the a permanent part of the house. The cost is also high. Probably $2000 minimum, more realistically around $5000 and as much as $10,000-12,000. However, if you spend some cash you can get one that is rather quiet (around what a 4 cylinder car would be at 3,000rpm or so) and will easily do your whole house.

    If you live in an area with major power problems, the whole house solution is the thing to check out. Expensive, but works great. Generac, or their consumer brand Guardian would be a good choice. They also test themselves (once a week normally) so you'll know if there are problems.

    If you go for a cheap solution, just be mindful of all the gotchas. Make sure to test it, make sure to keep fresh fuel around, and if you need to use sensitive devices, make sure there is something cleaning up the power for them unless you are ok if they get burnt up. It might not be a problem, the generator might produce nice clean power and/or the device might have a power supply that doesn't care at all, but then it might end up killing something.

  • some ideas (Score:5, Informative)

    by scharkalvin (72228) on Wednesday December 31, 2008 @02:41PM (#26282921) Homepage

    Generac (http://www.generac.com/Default.aspx) sells complete packages ready to install as well as discrete units and transfer switches. I have one of their 15KW air cooled LNG/Propane generators (only in my case it is for power outages caused by Hurricanes). Very easy to install, mount their transfer panel next to your main breaker panel and transfer some of the loads from the main panel to the generator panel. The unit WON'T run your entire house, but you can put the most important circuits under backup.

    If you have piped in LNG this is the way to go. Otherwise you need to bury a 250 to 1000 gal propane tank in the backyard.

        The choice of fuel for generator use would be LNG, Propane, Diesel, and Gasoline (in that order).

    Gasoline has the shortest 'shelf life' and is the most difficult to store (ask your fire department!).

        Diesel fuel can last for years with the right additives and can power your car (if you have a diesel car). Diesel engines will also run on JetA (live near an airport?), home heating oil (filter it first!), bio-diesel (rob your nearby McDonalds of their used french fri oil!), even Kerosene. If you buy diesel fuel for generator use make sure you fill out the required paperwork so you don't have to pay the road taxes on the fuel. You can store diesel in the same kind of tanks that home heating oil is stored in.

  • How about a Prius (Score:4, Interesting)

    by speroni (1258316) on Wednesday December 31, 2008 @02:41PM (#26282929) Homepage

    Car Generator [nytimes.com]

  • by Glendale2x (210533) <(slashdot) (at) (ninjamonkey.us)> on Wednesday December 31, 2008 @02:45PM (#26283001) Homepage

    There's two ways: the "emergency only" way and the fancy everything automatic way.

    #1: Any gas generator with a 240/120v twist lock outlet plus one of those 6 to 10 circuit generator transfer switches. The transfer switch has rocker switches on it and you pick your favorite circuits that you want to run on the generator during an outage. It wires in next to your breaker box - no need to run new wire anywhere. They usually have watt meters on them, too. When the power goes out, plug the generator into the transfer switch, fire it up, and switch the circuits to emergency. Get a generator in the 5 to 10 kW range. Cheap and effective, but the downside is you have to start it manually, and most portable units you can find run on unleaded gas. Make sure you run the generator at least once a month or you'll be in a world of hurt when you need it the most and it doesn't want to start.

    #2: The fancy automated way. Get one of those Generac whole-house units. They have automatic transfer switches that completely bypass the utility feed and run the whole panel. When the power goes out it auto-starts and auto-transfers. They automatically start to exercise every week, too. These will probably be special order and definitely more expensive, but well worth it if you frequently have extended power outages with crappy weather and you don't want to go outside to fire up the generator. They can run on natural gas or propane. Get at leat a 10kW unit.

    Either way you go use a transfer switch that wires into your breaker panel. It's much easier than running new wire or extension cords everywhere, especially when the power is out and you just want to get the damn thing running.

  • by Darth_brooks (180756) <clipper377@@@gmail...com> on Wednesday December 31, 2008 @02:50PM (#26283075) Homepage

    Disclaimer: Electricity is dangerous, and can kill you. I am not an electrician. I am a slashdot poster.

    The short answer for going-off grid: Buy lots of solar panels, which don't work as well here in SE Michigan (WTF is with you calling Michigan the "Northeast"?) in the winter time, but may be enough to get you by in conjunction with a good sized battery bank, and be prepared to significantly change the way you use electricity.

    As for the short / halfass way most of us deal with generator usage: Backfeeding (which isn't always regarded as the safest / smartest thing to do, since there are always idiots out there that will screw it up)

    -Go to your breaker box, shut off the main breaker or breakers (the ones at the top of your box that say "Main".)

    Congratulations, your house is now just a giant circuit of wires, not connected to the grid.

    -Shutoff any and all non-essential breakers, especially those connected to heavy draws (You're not going to run your electric stove unless you've got a beefy generator). You may just want to kill everything, then try individual breakers on over time.

    -Fire up your generator. If your 401k is where mine is now, you may want to do this indoors, in a confined space....If breathing is a priority for you (pussy), do this outside, a reasonable distance from your house.

    -Using a heavy gauge extension cord (Not a "move a lamp" cord, think "run a heavy appliance / machine" cord), plug in to a nearby outlet.

    Congratulations, you are now "backfeeding" your house off the generator. Instead of coming from the power lines, your electricity is coming in through an outlet. *DO NOT TURN YOUR MAIN BREAKERS ON!!!* One, Your poor generator will now try to power the entire grid, something that no dinky little 2500watt Honda can do and two, you will send power down a line that the poor DTE linesmen will / may assume is dead. Improper backfeeds can kill (and usually do a few times a year).

    Now you try and figure out what "side" of your box is being feed (if you have a typical, grey box with switch type fuses in two columns. If you have glass fuses in a quaint old house....call an electrician and move out. Oi). The breakers on the same side as the circuit your generator is plugged in to will now have power. If it's on the same side as your furnace, you can turn the furnace breaker on and, hopefully, the furnace should kick on and begin heating the house. If your furnace is on the other side as your power source, you can move the power line to an outlet that is on the same side, or plug in another extension cord from your generator to an outlet on the same side.

    Once power returns to your area simply shut down your generator, unplug your cords, then turn your main breaker back on.

    You have to prioritize what's important to you for power. Furnace and sump pump are your musts, and a sump pump can put out a very heavy load for a very short time, causing a brownout. Ditto a Refrigerator. After that, its your call based on what the generator will power. You can try to power your whole house on a 2000 watt generator, and the generator will run. You'll also kill the generator and probably damage your major appliances. Bigger the generator, the more you can power, and the greater the cost. Honda is the Sony of the Generator market. Generally quality stuff, but you'll pay for it.

    You'd also do well to investigate your electrical box and spend a day labeling every breaker and determining what you have running on each circuit. (lest you find out that a cheap alarm clock shorted out while you were on vacation, causing a breaker to pop, and that breaker was the same circuit your sump pump is on, which explains why your basement is now a swimming pool.) When I moved it, my box had two labels "Furnace" and "stove", now all 22 circuits are labeled, and I've been putting together a diagram that covers every outlet in the house.

  • Wood Stove (Score:3, Interesting)

    by kenp2002 (545495) on Wednesday December 31, 2008 @02:54PM (#26283135) Homepage Journal

    1 Wood stove will do you just fine for keeping things warm from a survivability stand point. Several exotic solutions are also radiant heat setups with the woodstove as part of the fluid line (in short rather then using electricity to heat the radiant heat the wood stove does.) I've seen that setup in several garages in the floors (some very nice crude ones too in the middle of nowhere for storage sheds.) Usually there is a sterling engine style pump that is integrated to help move the fluid.

    In a long term emergency go into the garage and get your camping tent. Set up the tent in basement of the house (use soup cans or other weights instead of spikes. I use bungie cords to some unfinished studs.(most homes freeze top-down fyi) Place 3-4 blankets and towels down as a floor in the tent. Grab some scrap 2x4s and nail up a pair of V shaped legs with a beam connecting them and build a small mini-tent inside the tent. Place blankets on top of that so you have a mini-tent inside for sleeping. Place any pets inside the main tent. This should keep the air temperature comfortable (sometimes even hot) in weather up to -20 degrees (your house is a big wind barrier.) turn off the water to the house and drain pipes. Wait for help.

    Pipes freezing you should shut em off and bleed em empty if possible. A single wood stove in most homes will keep the ambient temp above freezing with little problem.

  • by jdb2 (800046) * on Wednesday December 31, 2008 @03:02PM (#26283259) Journal
    I live ~30 miles north of Houston, Texas, and we got pounded by Hurricane Ike [wikipedia.org]. The worst part of the storm was the wind, with sustained speeds around 90-100 MPH and gusts around 110-120 MPH. The power was out in our neighborhood for at least 4 days. (I can't remember exactly how long, just that it felt like a long time) Fortunately, the outage didn't really affect us that much as we had a 2000 watt Honda EU2000iA [hondapowerequipment.com] generator. You might think that 2000 watts isn't enough power to be useful, but not so. It was enough to continuously run the refrigerator/freezer, enough to run the microwave, enough to continuously run several fans, and enough to continuously run all our computers. We didn't have to stock up on much gas as this line of generators has a great and indispensable feature which Honda calls "Eco-Throttle". Basically, the generator monitors the load put on it and and sets the engine speed accordingly. This means that most of the time the generator is running in a very low gas consumption state and is very quite -- we had it on our backyard patio and all you could hear was a low murmur. What's even better is that you can daisy-chain these generators for more power. They come in 1000-6500 watt versions, all with the Eco-Throttle feature. Other than having to string heavy-duty power cords throughout our house, we had no problems. I'd highly recommend one of these -- best bang for your buck.

    jdb2
  • Safety comments (Score:3, Informative)

    by tomdarch (225937) on Wednesday December 31, 2008 @03:04PM (#26283293)
    Sorry to be Captain Safety, but I just want to point out the obvious: 1. Be very careful when using a generator - they produce lots of carbon monoxide and kill several people a year. Don't run them in an attached garage - even with the door open. 2. Only a qualified electrician should make the kind of wiring changes that are required to add a generator to a house electrical system. The building code requirements are complex, but more importantly, the potential for a fire that would burn down your house is very real. Personally, I'd rather go without electricity for a few days than either die from carbon monoxide poisoning or have my house burn down. Enough with the doom and gloom - adding a generator to a house electrical system is done frequently and generally isn't exceptionally complicated. It's worth it to hire an experienced, licensed, insured electrical contractor to do it right.
  • by mcgrew (92797) * on Wednesday December 31, 2008 @03:08PM (#26283365) Homepage Journal

    And on a side note, thanks to DTE Energy for telling us we had power when we didn't, for losing the ticket for our neighborhood, for telling us it would be back every single day when it wasn't, and for the helpful DTE representative who warned us that our pipes might burst. Thanks

    Many folks here are wary of anything government, saying that the private sector can always do the job better and cheaper than government, but Springfield IL's city government puts the lie to that. Our power plant, CWLP [cwlp.com] (third picture down is General Manager Mr. Burns... er, sorry, Todd Renfrow. He just looks like Mr. Burns) is owned by the city.

    When two F-2 tornados destroyed most of the city's south end infrastructure in 2006 we didn't have any of the problems the submitter experienced with his private utility. Power was out for a week at the longest in the hardest hit areas; poles and lines and transformers and everything else had to be replaced. It was three weeks before the privately owned telcos got landlines working, and a month before Insight (since bought out) got my cable and internet back online.

    A few months later and a hundred miles south a single F1 went through the St. Louis area, doing far less damage. The private company Ameren took over a month to get power restored to all its customers.

    See, it's not government, but government's bureaucracy. The bureaucracy doesn't come from the fact that it's government, it comes from the fact that the bigger an organization, any orginazation, the more bureaucracy, the less customer service, the more the cost, and the shoddier the workmanship.

    If I'm unhappy with my electric service I can vote for the Mayor's opponent the next election. If you're unhappy with your private electric company you're shit out of luck. You can't just go down the street and use a different power company, they have you by the balls and there's nothing whatever you can do about it (save getting a humungous generator).

  • by mschuyler (197441) on Wednesday December 31, 2008 @03:29PM (#26283687) Homepage Journal

    I have a 6500 watt portable generator that runs diesel. An electrician charged about $1000 to put in a transfer switch - legally - to the power box. (I know that's expensive, but I also know it's done correctly to code as it was permitted inspected by the State.) The generator runs hot water, plus all lights, microwave, electronics, etc. It will NOT run the heat pump or the oven/range or the drier, but everything else works, literally. The generator burns about half a gallon an hour. I have a 240 gallon tank full (usually) of biodiesel along with a Duramax truck which holds another 34 gallons. Of course, you take your chances with either of those being 100% full during an outage, but I figure with frugal use I can get by about six weeks at the minimum and twice that at the maximum.

    1) Better have surge suppressors -- good ones -- on all electronics. Only the more expensive generators have compensators on them which regulate the voltage within tolerances expected by stuff like computers.

    2) I would NOT put an auto start on a generator, myself, for fear it would start up when I was not at home. In my opinion, home generators need personalized attendance to regulate what is on and off. You don't want to waste fuel.

    3) depending on how you're set up, the furnace fan idea might work if the furnace heat source is not electric, but I've chosen a wood stove which is capable of heating most of the downstairs rather than waste heat upstairs where it isn't really needed. I keep a cord of wood back and I can always steal wood from my neighbors. :-)

    Just my opinion FYI. My system works pretty well for me. No real complaints.

  • $100 1KW Generator (Score:3, Informative)

    by oldzoot (60984) <[ten.tsacmoc] [ta] [semaj.notrom]> on Wednesday December 31, 2008 @03:48PM (#26283963)

    John DeArmond has a good article on his site about the $100 1KW Chinese-made generators sold at Northern Tool.

    http://www.johndearmond.com/2008/12/24/the-generator-that-could/ [johndearmond.com]

    Enjoy,

      OZ

  • Go Green! (Score:4, Interesting)

    by mhollis (727905) on Wednesday December 31, 2008 @03:54PM (#26284069) Journal

    You can use a Toyota Prius [wikihow.com] to generate power enough to keep essentials operable.

    I think that the first thing I would do is figure out what circuit breakers go to essential services (that you need in a cold weather power outage) and carefully label those fuses. Then run the power to your box with only those circuits hot.

    This is not something you can just throw together, this is something you should get a licensed electrician to put together for you. The link to the article should tell any electrician what kind of power is coming off the Prius and that should give him ideas about how to set things up.

    I highly recommend that your Prius have plenty of gasoline before you set it up as your generator. But this article [obsessable.com] suggests one person was able to supply his home with three days worth of power on five gallons of gasoline.

    Of course you'll have to take the other car to work.

  • by sznupi (719324) on Wednesday December 31, 2008 @04:10PM (#26284249) Homepage

    ...in a case of total power loss? (and even that after some time, with the rate of loss at 1F per day)

    Granted, it's not really in line with gas-guzzling culture, but...
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Passive_house [wikipedia.org]

An Ada exception is when a routine gets in trouble and says 'Beam me up, Scotty'.

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