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30 June 2012


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Cold War Zoomie

It came out of nowhere and I've got a tree down in my backyard.

I got me a little 3200 watt generator and FiOS. Fridge, TV and Internet....what else do we need? Well, A/C would be nice but 3200 watts won't drive that outdoor unit.

But we don't use much A/C anyway. It's better to acclimate every year to the heat.

Nancy K

Col Lang, I have never really thought about a generator before but since moving to NC think it might be a good idea. What type generator would you reccommend? Any suggestions would be appreciated. I hope your home is okay. We read the storm was amazingly strong.


Nancy K and CWZ

We have a Gennerac 20 KW natural gas fixed generator. It is running now. The AC is on and I am slaving power to a neighbor. Old SF motto: "It does not take practise to learn to be miserable." pl

The Twisted Genius

Yes, that was quite the storm. The big Sycamores in the woods behind the house were dancing wildly in the wind, rain and hail. Those woods shield my house and trees nicely. We lost power last night, but it came back on around five this afternoon. Don't have a generator or natural gas. My preparation consisted of 36 inches of insulation in the attic and planting beaucoup trees in the yard when we got the place. Now the house is shaded all summer.

My younger son outside of Richmond got his power at nine this morning. He's glad we staked his cherry trees with heavy metal stakes earlier this week. My oldest son lives in Alexandria near Landmark Mall. He never lost power.

BTW, modem... wow... you're old... but ingenious.

Hank Foresman

Pat the difference between the SF and the Big Army is the Big Army practices being miserable every chance it can.

The Twisted Genius

Just saw a report of a casualty of last night's storm. The surrender tree under which Mayor Mayo met a Union cavalry detachment to surrender the city of Richmond in 1865. I pass this tree every time I visit my son in Richmond. At least his cherry trees made it through unscathed.




I think my first reply didn't "take". I hope this is not a duplicate.

Zoomie, Nancy K

We have a small 2800 watt standby generator on the natural gas line just for the fridge, freezer, and a few lights. Here's a tip from our co-op up in Missouri for those who don't need or want a whole house generator. Pick where you want a cool refuge that you can isolate from the rest of the house and install a small window AC unit there. I have 2 on a glass porch (so-called Florida room) here in Florida and will run one unit and sleep out there if it comes to that. My units are several years old and are EER 10.7 and draw 5 amps each for 6000 BTU units. They are pretty quiet and very efficient compared to the old "window shakers". You can probably get even better efficiency now. If you've got 5 amps to spare on your gen set power budget you could have 6000 BTU of emergency AC in one room for not much over a hundred bucks.

Good luck PL and Zoomie.



While running Public Works there were several sanitary sewer lift stations and domestic water pumps in the system that relied on natural gas back up generators to run when the electricity went down. I changed the backup generators to Propane (Propane is in tanks at the site). I was fearful of both the electricity and natural gas going out at the same time.

I had to do some heavy convincing of the bean counters that the expenditures would be worth their jobs in the end. When the double outage happened, both electrical and natural gas, the water flowed and toilets flushed. The only news was about the lack of power and natural gas being out and the attendant problems of both being down. No mention of the water or sewer systems having problems.

In short, a reliable backup generator is super nice and makes modern life possible when the juice goes down.

Things to consider on powering a generator. Gasoline or diesel powered gen sets require attention to the fuel for long term storage. Generators can sit for years in non use. Gas can and will collect water and go stale. Diesel can collect water and grow bugs if not treated.

Propane or natural gas is the choice for a homeowner, due to the gas or diesel issues.

The other item to consider is the system able to be stated by who is at home at the time and not just you, the person who knows all about the system. There are automatic systems that turn themselves on when the power is down. Pricey but worth it if your not handy or away when the power goes down and your'e not there to turn the gen set on.

As a side note, the military is making huge strides in mobile power applications. This technology will be making its way into civilian use over the next few years. Making portable, easy to use and set up power systems has been a on ongoing effort by the military.



My one only storm (in Michigan) is my visitors' 3 year old. I think I can handle another day of that, I have no idea how they handle him 365 days a year!


Nancy, we have the Generac 5870...the big one. Propane fired. Works well. Keys as far as I'm concerned? Making sure someone knows what they are doing in the installation and maintenance. Somebody with a good AND prolonged, service record. Especially if you are in the market for a special maintenance plan. Look at the dynamics of the thing....these machines, by definition, don't run very often. (which is why you should have an automatic test every week, running the machine for a minute or two). So, if something goes wrong, absent the automatic test, you don't find about it until you need it. (think parachute). And then again, by definition, when you need it, (help to repair) it is a good bet that alot of other people need the same thing at the same timne. Which means, if something is wrong, you are often in a crisis situation, and it is hard to find help fixing the machine since so many people are in the same boat with you. So...selecting the machine is the relative easy part....getting the right people to install it, and maintain it? That is the challenge. And there are a lot of fly by night guys setting this stuff up.

My two cents..


As I also am a compulsive planner, we too have a generator. Our local power company (National Grid)is owned by a British firm. The company is trying to sell the power company and has been cutting back on all maintenance as well as maintenance personnel. Here in Rhode Island the fear as a winter storm, especially an ice storm, which will knock out power for a protracted period. A recent winter storm knocked out power in western RI and eastern Conn for over a week. So we have a generator with automatic turn on which will supply power to most of the house. For us Natural gas is a cheaper alternative to propane.



How big is that one? I heartily agree that installation and maintenance of such a beast requires real competence. The first company that I had in this matter made a lot of mistakes. I have made other arrrangements. pl

The Twisted Genius

My father in law's house in upstate New York has a whole house natural gas fired generator that fires up automatically if normal electrical power is disrupted. A major part of the installation is, of course, the electrical hook up. The generator has to be matched to the house's electrical load or, as JT Cornpone explained, decide what you want powered in an emergency . Jonst is absolutely right. The installation needs to be done by someone who knows what they're doing and it has to be automatically tested weekly. Once it's properly installed, annual maintenance is minimal... no more than what you would have done for your heating/cooling system. If I had natural gas, I'd gladly spend the money to have one installed.



Unless you have an unlimited data plan with your cellular provider while you are using your smart phone as a WIFI hotspot, be aware that cellular data is metered.

John Minnerath

In the old SF of the 60s we didn't have to practice.
Being miserable just came pretty naturally. :)
After it was all over we slapped on our little green beanies and told each other we wouldn't have it any other way.



Glad to hear you're okay. My mother is in the area and said she woke up to her patio umbrella driven into the side of the tool shed. Wow!

I've been looking at the Nomad line of solar power products out here as a supplemental option. http://www.goalzero.com/

Nowhere near the generator you have, but good to have if you need to take some of work off your big one.

Stay cool in the meantime.

Maureen Lang


Is the power back on yet? Hard to tell if it is in your area from WaPo or weather.com. Signs point to no power yet, though.

I've found that living along Pacific Rim fault lines has its own set of challenges re: power outages. Left over from many years in the studio equipment rental business, we've got sets of different sized gennies, powered by either gas or propane. During the Northridge quake aftermath we made friends of even our most reclusive neighbors by lending gennies to them during the outages, which were frequent & sometimes lengthy. Powered ourselves handily as well. Have a backyard shed devoted to quake supplies: stock of MREs, home-made dried meats/fruits/veggies, potable water, wash water, hand crank flashlights/radios, usb device charger, camp stoves, etc. Long term Cal residency has taught us disaster preparedness in spades (plus compulsive, detailed planning does tend to run in our family...).



I am not a fool. It is unllimited. pl


Since life has it 'sucker-punches' that once-in-a-moon get us in the gut, not only do we have auxiliary power, we have auxiliary living quarters, that have both been put to hard work to help smooth the occasional bumps. Beats living in a cave (which we could do by digging a mole-hole out in the boonies in the middle of our pastures). Hmmm.....should I create a new missile silo, or shouldn't I? Decisions, decisions. Oh well, life has its rose petals as well as its occasional thorns.

On the lighter side, ran across a new Tartar music video that I figure that some would enjoy. She (Гульназ Султанова) sure is one pretty lady. Enjoy!

Гөлназ Солтанова — Бүләк итәр идем


Our generator is new this year so when we had a brief power outage during a severe (for RI) storm today it was nice to see the auto start feature kick in.
Looking back 10 or 20 years, I would have had faith in the ability of local power companies to quickly restore power in any situation short of a major hurricane. So I guess having a generator now is really a commentary on our crumbling infrastructure....



Ah well, a piece of history gone.

Just like them antiquated buildings lost to napalm back in WWII.

The Olde Hindus & Buddhists always said ain't nuthin' gonna last forever in this material realm of ours.

It is what it is.



"life has its rose petals as well as its occasional thorns"

Aw, tell me about it.


"one pretty lady"

She sure is a looker.

Probably the only good the Mongol Hordes have wrought.

DNA spread across (how many?) continents.


& thanks for showing us here all them pretty ethnic girls sir.



Power came back on at 2000 last night. The Beast ran well under a serious load for two days. This was a good "run-in" for it. We slaved some power out to a neighbor to keep fans and a refigerator running. Alexandria is an old city for the US. The electrical grid dates to the beginning of the 20th Century. pl

Abu Sinan

Dear Sir,

We were out for two days. We lost a lot of food, but did okay as we have gas for cooking. Camping supplies came in handy and we spent the day at the malls or shopping.

I was really surprised at the number of people living in houses who didnt have generators. Why spend $1,000,000 on a house and not spend a few thousand dollars on a generator?

Our apartments are older, and didnt have one. I am SO glad to be back up and running. A few days like this make you realise all of the little things you rely on.


All in all, a whole house automated system is best for most people. The likely scenario for needing emergency power involves a dark stormy night, wind, sheets of rain, etc, basically general chaos, not a good time to be messing around outside.

Some like Tyler and Zoomie have mentioned they are thinking of coming up with or have come up with their own solutions so I am expanding on my previous reply. Peter and TTG have highlighted some drawbacks to a partial system sized for limited selected loads and also the almost guaranteed problems with liquid fuels. I went with a partial system purely due to cost considerations (and well yes I am a retired electrical engineer and like to do stuff like this).

Zoomie will recognize this next part. Starting a partial non-automated system requires the following steps. First, inside, possibly in the dark with your flashlight you have to turn off all the breakers to the rooms which will be unoccupied. In my house this involves two breaker boxes. In the room(s) to be occupied you have to try to remember which lights and fans were on and turn off all but the minimum. Unneeded power hogs like a dehumidifier in the garage where our freezer is have to be turned off individually. Don't forget the automatic outside security lights. When I have got the loads which will come on when the gen set starts stripped down to within planned capacity I can go outside turn on the gas valves, manually crank the generator and uncoil my connecting cable and carry it from the generator to the connecting plug on the house switch-over box. There I have to remember to turn off the main switches to the house AC/furnace units. I throw the changeover switch and plug in the connecting cable. (Both the plug-in fitting and the switch should be installed by an electrician. Temporarily wiring a generator to a house without isolating the house from the utility wires can electrocute utility technicians trying to restore service). At this point the selected rooms and appliances light up or the generator bogs down because I have forgotten to turn off some big load I don't want. As Peter and TTG say everyone who may have to start the system has to know the drill including your neighbor or house sitter if you are away.

Doing your own installation also requires that you consider placement for living best with the noise and being ABSOLUTELY sure you have not set up a situation where it is remotely possible for generator exhaust fumes to accumulate in the house. People have been killed by generator exhaust.

I have also found that for the typical inexpensive gen set with the engine exposed like mine I have to remove the tarp periodically and clear massive adobe structures made by mud daubers from the air cleaner box. Then I can start the unit and do its check run.

A few other quirks of a limited capacity manual system like mine: You will likely postpone starting it for quite a while hoping the power will return and when you get it running you probably will not notice for a long time when the utility power returns. You will have more room for light in your power budget if you are fully equipped with compact fluorescent bulbs or better yet LEDs. And you will probably have to live like you are on a cave tour-lights off behind, lights on ahead as you move through the house

It's good to have some sort of backup plan. Over the years we have been out of power for up to a week in Ohio, Missouri, and Florida due to ice, wind storms, and hurricanes. Living in the dark without some AC is inconvenient and our monetary losses have involved significant quantities of refrigerated and frozen food like Abu Sinan mentioned so that's the focus of our plan. We are not planning to survive Armageddan. Realistic scenarios for us involve getting by for outages in the range of up to a couple of weeks. Your mileage may vary.

I envy PL for his automated whole house system and it's absolutely the best way to go but it's just not in my budget at this time. However if you are not up for the caveats and fussiness of what I have described it's the ONLY way to go.


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