November 8, 2012

DISASTER PREPAREDNESS: Reader Kathleen Wallace writes:

I have been an Insta-addict for three years. I appreciated, among others, the recurrent theme of disaster preparedness during Hurricane Irene, and was struck particularly by the role of inverters.

So, when we saw Sandy on the way, we finally got our inverter, set it up, and tested it here in our home in New Jersey. As predicted, our power went out.

We ran the inverter off the car periodically each day, an hour in the morning and the evening. We ran the fridge, the furnace, the modem, charged the phones, and caught up with the Instapundit. We were conservative (of course), and at the end of 5 days, we had well over half a tank left in our Ford Escape, were warm, and knew what was happening. The car ran quietly, cleanly, and safely, unlike the many loud, smelly generators in the neighborhood.

We never needed to wait hours in line with several red plastic containers. The candles and transistor radio made the evenings enjoyable.

I thank you for your blog, and especially for helping us rethink disaster preparedness.

Inverters are pretty cheap, too. You’ll want extension cords, too.

UPDATE: Say, here’s a question: How much power does a gas pump consume? Could you power one with a big (2000-3000 watt) inverter?

ANOTHER UPDATE: Reader John Marcoux writes:

I second what your reader Kathleen wrote about using inverters instead of a generator. Followed some of your links to arrive at that conclusion. Fortunately, I haven’t had to use anything yet.

One obvious reason to go this route: fridge, a big concern, doesn’t have to be on all the time to maintain, per what Kathleen is doing. I wish she had written what inverters she has.

Yeah. I assume she has her furnace wired with a pigtail connection, too. You can splice into the furnace, of course, but not everyone would want to do that.

ANOTHER UPDATE: Reader Alan Gray writes: “How about some rules of thumb on the right size inverter? And can any size be run off a car?” Pretty much — up to 2000-3000 watts pretty easily. There are bigger ones, but they’re best hardwired. Of course, you can run low-power stuff off the battery, but if you’re running more than a few hundred watts you really want the engine running. You want to keep the inverter close to the car — no 12-volt extension cables — and then run an extension cord into the house. You lose a surprising amount of power in cabling, though, so you want to keep things as short as possible.

MORE: Reader Curtis Franklin writes: “If you’re going to try to serve circuits in your house through a generator/inverter (rather than simply plugging appliances directly into the outlets on the power source), then it’s critical to have a transfer switch wired into your main breaker box. They’re not all that expensive (thought they’re a definite licensed electrician job) and they prevent power from your house from back-feeding into the local power lines — a situation that is dangerous for the people trying to restore power and can delay that restoration for hours while they track down the homeowner working so hard to kill them.” That’s true. Not many inverters big enough people would plug them into their house, but yeah.

And reader Allan Pierce writes: “A quick search on Fuel Dispenser Electrical Requirements turned up a gas pump mfr’s brochure, which suggests a gas station pump has one or two 1 horsepower pump motors. Figure about 1000 watts per motor, so the answer is yes. Big issue is safety: wiring the gas station with a power inlet and cutover switch for each pump near its electrical panel. Could be done under disaster-recovery conditions by electricians certified for hazardous area (explosion-proof) work. It’s better not to wait, but gas stations are low-margin businesses so this is unlikely to be done in advance of need unless required by law or encouraged by economic incentive for all stations in the most-vulnerable areas (hint to people doing post-disaster ‘lessons learned’ reviews).”