Weathering The Storm

Winter Power Outage = Good Chance To Test Preps

Western Washington had a pretty good storm last week. I realize, in the larger category of “winter storms”, this wasn’t anywhere among the worst. That being said, it was a big deal around here – we don’t have storms like that very often. What started off as a good amount of snow coming down, transitioned into an ice storm. The tree branches were weighed down and many broke, taking down power lines and causing a power outage that affected close to 300,000 homes.

We were one of those homes, our power was out for about 36 hours. So when life gives you lemons… I figured this was the perfect opportunity to test our preps! At 7:30 am, as Sarah and I were in the Jeep driving back from the train station (the trains were cancelled because of frozen switches), I got the call the power was out. As I drove up to the house, even though I knew the power was off, I still tried to use the garage door opener (habits). First lesson of the power outage: make sure everyone knows how to manually open the garage door.

Since we have had a couple of “lights-out” drills we knew where to start. We:

  1. ‘Fired-up’ the battery bank and, using a volt meter, checked and recorded the starting voltage (12.6 volts).
  2. Ran a 50 foot, 14-gauge extension cord into the house and plugged it into a surge protector for inside use.
  3. Connected another extension cord to the natural gas furnace to run the blower*.
  4. Put a temperature probe inside the deep freezer (in the garage), with one end out so that it could be easily read, and recorded the starting temperature (10 degrees).
  5. Brought lamps, with low energy bulbs, into the main room and plugged them into the surge protector.

The battery bank operated well that day. My parents, visiting from Colorado, were able to appreciated all our preps. My mom was especially grateful to be able to blow dry and curl her hair (before leaving to see more family) – she felt this alone justified all our preparations. We had heat (though we kept it lower than normal, 62 degrees), light, Ryan was able to play Xbox, and we watched a movie after dinner. Every couple of hours we’d check and record the battery voltage and the deep freezer temperature.

However, when we woke up the next morning I realized the heat wasn’t on. I checked the battery bank and it had powered off. Even though it registered plenty of voltage (11.3 volts) the indicator light showed the batteries had gotten too low – this shouldn’t have happened until it reached 10.0 volts. It’s possible this occurred because I had left the inverter plugged into the wall and the line may have surged, but I don’t know for sure. We got out the generator, fired it up, and connected it to the:

  • inverter, to recharge the battery bank. As soon as it was plugged in the inverter began to charge and work again.
  • freezer, even though the temperature was still below 20 degrees.
  • furnace blower, and turned the heat up to 70 degrees.
  • laptop computer and all other rechargeable devices.

Once the generator was running we used our Volcano Grill and percolator to make coffee, then boiled water for oatmeal.

Sarah and I then left for work. The generator ran for about three hours, then Ryan called and told me it had stopped. I assumed it had run out of gas. I had him plug things back into the inverter and continue to power the house from the battery bank (Repetitive & Redundant). That evening the power came back on. We put everything neatly away, ready for the next time.

(Friday: What I Did This Week To Prep including Storm After Action Review)

*Last summer my good friend, fellow prepper, and HVAC/R technician, Rick helped me rewire the line that powers the blower on my natural gas furnace. This allows me to plug the blower into an alternate power supply if needed. Rick has agreed to guest blog for me next Monday (1/30/12), when he’ll write about how you can do this same project yourself, complete with a detailed how-to video.

What I Did This Week To Prep

Last spring, working on our energy category, I bought a used Generac 5000 generator. My goal is to test it each quarter to ensure it still works properly. I especially wanted to be sure this time of year with the cold winter months approaching. So Ryan, his best friend Chanse, and I got it out. It took us a minute, but once we got the choke properly adjusted it fired up. I need to remember next time that the garage (even with the door open) isn’t the place to test it – it’s loud! Though we haven’t used it other than testing, so far I’ve been pleased with it – but I definitely need more experience using it.

Not long after buying the generator, continuing in the energy category, I bought four slightly used AGM deep cycle batteries and a refurbished Magnum inverter/charger. It took me a while to get all the appropriate knowledge and pieces together. But with the help of a couple TSP forum friends (thanks Dan and Rick), and their electrical/alternative energy knowledge, by early summer I had everything wired together and functional. This past week, after it had quietly sat in the garage for a couple months, I finally did my first test of the system. The test was to see how long our 14 cubic foot deep freezer would run (without opening the freezer) on the batteries. The battery bank, fully charged, started at 12.60 volts. I recorded the time and battery voltage several times a day. It ran for a about 100 hours, until the batteries were at 10.71 volts. A few days after my test I realized that the breaker from the batteries to the inverter had tripped and, after looking at the manual, I determined that the batteries probably should have discharged to 10.50 volts before the inverter tripped off; so add a few more hours to the total. I need to do more testing and develop a better understanding of my backup electric system, but it was a start. Next I’ll do a ‘lights out’ test and see how the battery bank does running some electrical appliances in the house. I also need to use the generator to recharge the discharged battery bank and see how long, and how much gas, that takes.

Ryan & Brynn with our combined order

Lastly, we went to the Mormon Family Home Storage Center (cannery) and canned food to add to our LTS. I previously posted about the Mormon canneries, and included a link to a video of the process, in Long Term Storage (Food Part 2). The staff (Mormon volunteers) were super friendly and helpful. The cannery is scheduled by groups; you can form your own group (Mormon or non-Mormon), or you can be added to a smaller group (we were added to a Mormon group from the Auburn area). A friend had planned to go with me but was unable to go that week, so I offered to do his order as well. Since it was going to be a large order (combined 91 cans) I brought Ryan and Brynn along to help. In addition to us, there were about eight other people in our group. We had each previously submitted our order forms, and all the bulk storage bags we would need had been pulled from the shelves and were ready to go. Start to finish, including orientation and cleanup, took just over two hours. We were assigned a task and, assembly line style, the process started: opening bulk bags, pouring into #10 cans, sealing the metal lid on the can, adding a label, and placing the can in a box for the appropriate order. When all the work was completed, we inventoried and paid for our order. We added 55 #10 cans to our LTS.

What did you do?

(Monday: Antibiotics In Your Preps?)

(10/23/11)