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Saturday, March 7, 2009

Ramblings on the the March 2009 snow storm... AAR (after action report)


It all started on March 1st after 2 days of rain. It was snowing on and off all day long, but never didn't start laying until it got dark. The wind picked up and with the heavy wet snow sticking to everything vertical after dark. Around 0020 (1220am) the power went out.

Actually my wife informed me of this when I awoke at 0500 as I didn't know or care... When you expect the power to go out and you have to get up, have an alternative alarm clock.


I decided to fire up the generator and provide the family with power while I brought home the bacon. Luckily, when I built the home ,I decided I wanted an interlock panel and a plug to run from the generator to the the emergency panel. Twice it has paid off :) I still need to run the well pump wiring in it and had to run it in temporarily during the power outage, to pump some water in the house. For some reason the electrician figured the well pump did not need to be on the emergency panel, that is the problem when you build a home but can not live in the same town so you can supervise it.

When you run a generator you must understand that the engine is not designed to run for long periods of time without an oil change! Many folks ,when out of power and running on generator power, run them for a week or more and NEVER change the oil. Then the engine fails! You MUST change the oil per your owners manual! I change mine for every 24 hours of run time.

The first time I ever used a generator after a winter storm I used SAE 30 weight oil. When I tried to crank it with the pull starter it was almost impossible to turn over the engine! After consulting with my hand dandy owners manual for use in temps below 32F, it recommended using 5W-30. Let me tell you this certainaly has helped with easy pulling in 32F and colder temps.

It also helps to store the generator in a warmer place such as a basement (WARNING DO NOT STORE WITH FUEL IN THE GENERATOR UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES INSIDE YOUR HOME!!! YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED!!!) so when you have to deploy it, the oil will be warmer than it would be outside. Mine is stored in a heated building WITH NO FUEL in it!Anything to do to make it easier on YOU will be worth it!

For running it around 12 hours a day, the generator burned about 5 gallons of fuel a day. We turned it off at night. We also keep a low profile and practiced 'light discipline' ,by not lighting up the night sky with all our lights. When I looked at the home from the front, it looked light we had ONE lantern burning in front of the home.

If you are considering buying a generator in the 10 hp/5000-6000 watt range I would seriously consider getting an electric start one. IF you get one with an electric start, you will also need to consider getting a battery maintainer (trickle charger) or if it will be stored in a remote building, a solar powered charger. This is to make sure when you REALLY need it, it will work for you!

When you are running a generator make sure you lock it to something solid! You don't want someone stealing your source of power. FWIW I have heard of reports in some areas, where a crook will pull up a running lawn mower (maybe yours... your stuff is locked up is it not???) and then take the generator and shut it down and haul it off... All while you think your generator is still running but for some reason it quit generating.

Our broadband modem is on its OWN UPS/APC battery backup system. We found that it would power the modem for a long time. We also did this with out TiVo so we wouldn't miss out on any programming we were going to record. Another benefit of this is that when the power flickers on and off, the modem does not have to resynch and the TiVo does not not take the 5 minutes it normally takes to reboot as the power stays on!

Also don't forget to have a plain Jane regular plug in wall phone. When your power is out those wonderful cordless phones will not work! So be sure to have at least one corded telephone. Chances are even with the power out your landline will still work so have an option to utilize it!

Alarm systems usually have a PUNY 4 amp hour battery backup that may last 4-24 hours before it DIES. To me that is unacceptable!!! At my former home, the power was out for 8 days after a large ice storm. After 8 hours our alarm panel was OUT because the battery was dead. I took one of my deep cycle batteries and wired it into the system to provide power for the system for the duration. When I built my home, I made sure that I had a significant battery backup that would power my system for 2+ weeks in the event of power failure. When I install my solar power system, it will be tied into the alarm system as well.

I do have a battery bank for my ham station that I did not use because I had to work and then come home and do the other chores that with with grid tied electricity are made easier!


Any locks that you may need to unlock after a hard rain and then a freeze should be keep with a sandwich baggie over them to prevent water from entering the mechanism freezing it solid! I FORGOT to do this and as I went to unlock my gate I had to go get my MAPP gas torch and give it a brief heating to melt the ice. No need to heat it cherry red, just enough to get the ice to melt (it will not ruin it unless they are plastic coated with a brief heating). A squirt of WD-40 will displace the remaining moisture and prevent it refreezing when the temp drops at night.

The locks on your vehicle may also freeze. They make some lock de-icer aerosols that work well, but you must keep them warm so they will squirt well.

A trick I used several times was to use my trusty Zippo ( I don't smoke, but I like having a good lighter) to heat up the key an insert it into the lock and thus melt the ice. Since we had rain for 2 days before it dropped below freezing, it took 2 to 3 times of doing this to melt all the ice enough so the lock would function... or would that be UNFUNCTION???

Also consider lubricating your locks on your vehicles since you will be driving through slush and salt water from all the crap they put on the roads to make the ice melt. A lock fouled up with grime can be just as out of service as a frozen solid one...

For heating we used our fireplace which does a pretty good job of keeping the living areas warm. At night we ran a 1500W ceramic heater in the children's rooms to warm them up before they went to bed. The coldest these rooms got was 60 degrees. Our bedroom dropped to 52 after the outside temps dropped to 12F... Not ideal but certainaly liveable!

I do need to come up with a permanent solution to heat these rooms in the future. I have several Big Buddy heaters for this purpose but I really don't like the idea of the kids being around these without supervision.

To contain the heat in the living areas, I came up with the idea of using space blankets reinforced with duct tape at the top to allow it to be hole punched. I then ran two eye hooks at the top of the doorways to run a string through and thread the string through the space blanket. This is a really lightweight and easy option for keeping your heat in only the rooms you need to. Once the emergency is OVER, leave up the eye hooks and stash the rest until next time. Make sure you reinforce the top of the space blanket with duct tape where you punch your holes or it will not last long at all!

For cooking the microwave is on the generator circuit so we kinda stuck with that. There is a burner on the propane grill outside as well as a plethora of various gas burners on camping stoves. We also have a Volcano II stove that gives us the option to burn wood or charcoal to cook on.

I like a hot shower but any shower will do when you feel nasty! I hooked up the well pump to the generator and thought I would take my chances with COLD water coming out of the shower head. As I turned on the water, it ran as expected COLD... REALLY COLD and then the greatest thing happened, the water ran WARM (almost HOT). Apparently the extra insulation I wrapped around my electric water heater paid off. 23 hours after the power went off, there was still hot water in the tank! So the cold shower was not as cold as I had worried it was going to be. I am seriously considering a propane powered instant hot water heater as a replacement to my electric one.

I still need to hang a stainless steel eyehook from the ceiling of the bathroom (over the tub of course) so I can hang one of those solar showers on, if the power is going to be off for a long time. Simply heat up some water on your turkey fryer and pour it in the solar shower bag, hang it up and shower away!

To store water in for flushing toilets we first filled up our bathtubs. We use flat sided trash cans (as opposed to round ones) so we can fill them up even when the water gets shallow in the tub.

Once the well pump was online we filled up our six gerry cans and had plenty of water for the duration. I have been wanting to try one of those Water BOB's as it is a pretty brilliant idea for storing potable water.

I need to get a few containers with spigots on them so it will make brushing teeth, washing dishes, etc. much easier than with the jerry cans. I thought I had one, but was sadly mistaken.

After 36 hours our power was restored. With these events you should always take notes and try to improve your preps.

I need to document with step by step directions how to run the generator so my wife can use it in case I can not get to it in a timely fashion. I happen to know where a bunch of the prep materials are located (spare oil, water cans, candles, etc.) but I need to also have a list of where I store these items.

We also need to come up with a 'initial response box/bag/container/cabinent/shelf' that has extra flashlights, batteries, candles, matches, radio, etc. so we don't need to go looking for them. WE HAVE THESE ITEMS ALREADY, but we need to have them in one rapid response container that will meet all our needs for the first 12-24 hours so we can concentrate on other tasks. Not a biggie, but would be a definate improvement.

All in all we survived and did so in comfort. This was the first time I ran the generator for this great of time period. Mainly I wanted to see how many items we could run and test the endurance levels, fuel consumption and load capability. In the past I ran it 4 hours a day tops, just for the fridge/freezers and to pump water.

WTSHTF, I will probably only run the generator to keep the food cold until I can perserve it by other means and then only for emergencies. I have a spring I can haul water from so I don't really hafta use the well.

WHEW!!! This is one rambling piece of ramble! Hope you stuck with me, and if you did... Thanks!

Until next time, take it easy, watch your six and keep your powder dry! Thanks again for reading!


1 comment:

PJ said...

Excellent AAR report. Good to see someone's planning in action.

Some great ideas in there too about keeping the alarm panel powered for longer periods. I need to do that myself.

Nice work and a great post.

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