Notes On My SHTF Plan

You may remember from Monday’s brief post that I ran into some problems with my SHTF power-outage plan last weekend.  So what happened?

About 9:00 am or so the power went out – right smack in the middle of my shower.  Mrs Jarhead was busy folding clothes in my son’s room and hadn’t noticed yet.  The house was warm, the fridge and the freezer would keep for awhile, there were no immediate concerns, so instead of hooking things up right away we decided to do some chores in town first.  There have been times when I’ve gone out and got everything hooked up and as soon as it was running the power came back on.

We got home around 1:00 or so and the power wasn’t on yet, so I pulled the generator out and got it running.  First note:  make sure you start your generator monthly.  I had to crank on it for awhile before it started whereas this summer it started after only one pull.pelletstove

Once it was running I had to go looking for extension cords, surge protectors and the like to get my appliances hooked up.  I wanted to have the freezer, fridge, pellet stove, some lights, and the laptop or the TV and DVD player set up.  Everything worked fine except the pellet stove.

The good thing is that I have a kerosene heater as a backup and since the temperature didn’t go down below 29 degrees it stayed nice and warm in the house; however, that did not solve the problem of the generator not running the pellet stove.

I have booked appointments  with a couple of electricians to come over to the house for a visit.  One of the things I’ve wanted to do for awhile is set up a transfer switch, so the generator will run directly into the house.  It’s going to cost some money:  quotes ranged from $600 to $800, but I’d rather have a trained electrician do it right.   Basically what a transfer switch does is tie your generator into your house’s electrical system so that when the power goes out you don’t have a whole tangle of cables running through your house like a construction zone.

Another good thing about the transfer switch is it will also allow me to use my water pump, so I can draw water directly up from the well.  Awesome!

If you have the money another alternative is to have a much larger system such as a 8kw backup generator or higher with fail-over installed.  These generators are usually propane and will usually run much of your house instead of just a few appliances.  Some of you mentioned this in comments on Monday’s post.  The downside is that these systems start at around $4,000 – at least that’s what I’ve got for quotes so far.  If you have the cash to throw at a system like though, it’s a very good way to go.

So What Worked?

With all this talk you might think it was a total failure.  Quite the contrary!  I had plenty of water for flushing toilets in the form of my rain barrels outside.  I had plenty of potable water in the basement for drinking not to mention my Royal Berkey Water filter that I didn’t have to break out.

Despite the problem with the pellet stove the generator ran the fridge, freezer, lights, and the TV with no problem at all.

My neighbors came over with their two-year old daughter and her and my son played in the living room.  They weren’t quite as prepared as we were, so we opened our door and welcomed them into our home and they stayed until around 8:00 pm.  By that point my two year old son – who hadn’t napped all day – was in complete melt-down mode.  After they left he fell asleep on the kitchen floor before we could get him into bed.  Talk about a tired little boy!

Lessons Learned

I should have checked the generator with the things I wanted to run ahead of time instead of assuming that because a few power tools and some other small gadgets worked I was all set.

While having a wood stove would be the ideal that’s not in the cards in the immediate future, so getting the pellet stove running on the generator is on the docket for this week.  The electrician will check out the generator while he’s over and let me know what’s going on.

This one may become a non-issue with the installation of a transfer switch, but I’ll throw it out there:  if you’re going to use a generator without a transfer switch know exactly what appliances you want to run, and have cables and surge protectors to run from the generator to the applicances stored in an easy to get to spot.  I ran around stealing surge protectors from different areas of the house and when the power came back on I had to put it all back again.  Not a huge deal,  just a pain in the butt.  If I don’t get the transfer switch I’ll definitely put one of these kits together.

Luckily the power was out for less than twenty-four hours here, which gave me time to assess the situation without causing a huge disruption and it gives me time to get my ducks in a row before the next big storm comes rolling through.

Long Term SHTF

Let’s say TSHTF for a long period of time measured in months, or even years, instead of a weekwood-stove or two.  What then?  Unless you had the means for a resupply of gasoline, propane, or whatever it is you use for backup electricity, you’re going to run out.

Your best bet for sustainable electricity would be solar or wind, hydro electricity, or even geothermal, but that topic is for another day.  Again, I’ve got to stop before this becomes the never-ending post.

So…

What are you plans for when the lights go out?  Are you ready for when TSHTF?  Are you sure?

-Jarhead Survivor

31 comments… add one
  • Mrs. Had Enough November 4, 2011, 7:30 am

    Congrats on surviving so well Jarhead! We got our power back at 9 pm last night. It was 5 days without electricity. We were warm, as you know, thanks to a coal stove w/fan that kept the house warm. We hardly used the wood stove. We boiled water, and actually took baths, cleaned and did dishes with that. It was very cold during the night and our neighbors stayed with us and slept in our spare bedroom. We cooked well on the coal stove and the generator supplied power to our two chest freezers, however, we had to charge them one at a time. There wasn’t enough power for both. We ran out of candles, so I had to make them, but we had plenty of batteries for flashlights and Coleman lantern. The yard was a mess so we had to drag branches to the street, and snap those that the town wouldn’t pick up due to their size. After years of prepping we had plenty of food.
    Sadly,people died from carbon monoxide poisoning because they used their BBQs in the house and some tried to use BBQ charcoal in their ovens. Our battery operated radio kept us in touch with “civilization” lol and reports on outages and those areas power was coming back. I found organization was KEY! I scrambled and searched for items in the dark when it would have been unnecssary had items like flashlights had been stored together. Believe it or not, I enjoyed the time. We worked hard, but we learned our strengths and weaknesses. We had enough gasoline but not if the outages had continued. We were woefully understocked on candles. We need backup other than cold weather should the refrigerator not work. I’d like to have an additional generator so we can power up more appliances. May you and your family have good health and happiness in the coming New Year Jarhead and may God bless our nation too.

    Reply
    • Jarhead Survivor November 4, 2011, 9:55 am

      That is outstanding, Mrs Had Enough! Congrats to you on getting through the storm as well as you did! It’s interesting that you had people stay with you as well. People might think we’re crazy when we prep during nice weather, but when things go south those same people are the first to knock on your door. (Not saying that’s the case here, but you know what I mean.)

      Great job on identifying your weaknesses as well. I was lucky in that my situation lasted less than a day and I’ve used this opportunity to fix those holes. I’m just hoping the next storm isn’t as bad!

      Reply
  • Presager Buddy November 4, 2011, 10:05 am

    Just as you have, Jarhead, I’ve learned from both Irene and this week’s early winter storm. This was the first time that we have activated our family emergency plan. Two household came over to my place to get warm and have hot meals. Everything went the way I had planned it, but we could have had more potable water at a faster rate than what I had planned for. We were under a “boil water” alert and with a half dozen more people to feed, the smaller Berkey I have was producing too little water at too slow a rate. I’ve now ordered a new Royal Berkey. That should solve that problem.
    We lost power on Saturday aftern00n and the community that I live in had a 96 percent outage by the next day. On Sunday morning, most roads were not passable because of the enormous number of trees that had fallen. For those without generators or woodstoves it got pretty cold in the house after a while. The others in my family reported 40 to 45 degrees in their houses. (We can be thankful that this didn’t happen at a time in New England when the temps would be in the teens or 20’s).
    This storm was also a redeeming moment for me. I have been a prepper for most of my life (and that’s a long time) and for years my family has sighed and rolled their eyes whenever I discussed prepping. As they left my house, once the power was restored, all warmed, rested and fully fed. Their expressions of gratitude were spoken by newly converted believers.

    Reply
    • Jarhead Survivor November 4, 2011, 8:28 pm

      Nice job keeping the family warm and safe Presager. It’s rewarding when people suddenly realize you’re not crazy when TSHTF and they’re knocking on your door looking for help. That’s one of the most rewarding things for me – being able to help those who aren’t prepared.

      Reply
  • GoneWithTheWind November 4, 2011, 11:28 am

    In an extended SHTF situation it would probably be impractical to try to power refrigerators, freezers and pellet stoves. A small PV system is fairly cheep and will provide you with a couple of LED lights in the evening, 2-4 hours of laptop and/or TV, but not much more. A large PV system is expensive and the batteries to support it are expensive as well. Consider using your backup power in it’s 12 volt form rather then use expensive and power consuming inverters. If you are a millionaire you can ignore this advice but if not consider going small.

    Reply
    • Jarhead Survivor November 4, 2011, 8:29 pm

      Agreed.

      Reply
    • Anonymous November 4, 2011, 10:10 pm

      I agree…I would never consider adding an inverter until the solar panel array got to at least 500 watts. Thanks to the RV supply industry there are lots of nifty gadgets that run on 12 volts. I have a small scale solar installation that has been up and running for 4 years without a hiccup: 160 watt solar panel array and 4 Trojan T-105 batteries wired in series parallel to provide a theoretical capacity of 450 amp hours. I never discharge the battery bank more than 40%….and the batteries are as good as the day I installed them….which gives me a usable reserve of 180 amp hours. The ham station always runs off the batteries and I have a car stero hooked up for news and tunes…..also lots of capacity to run LED lighting and the laptop.

      During the long days of summer I have power to burn…during the short days of December and January it is not uncommon to see 7 days or more of no sunshine. This is when the Honda eu1000 comes into play to recharge the batteries….that little unit can go to hell and back on a quart of gas.

      Reply
      • Lumberjok November 4, 2011, 10:12 pm

        Oops…sorry for posting without a name….that was me

        Reply
  • Jason November 4, 2011, 12:08 pm

    I don’t know if you thought of this or mentioned this but if Mrs. JH took off with the kids for a few hours, you could shut off all of your power at the meter & then can systematically experiment with the generator, power cords etc in a controlled environment. I mentioned the wife & kids leaving to eliminate distraction, demands & increase personal concentration.

    This way when you discover what works, you can identify what tools are needed, what extension cords are needed & where and the transition becomes smooth, simple & efficient – a natural flow. I do this with many things because I hate chaos & any form of panic.

    Reply
    • Jarhead Survivor November 4, 2011, 8:30 pm

      Excellent advice, Jason. I fully intend to test my next system before the next power outage.

      Reply
  • Elecard StreamEye Studio 1.1 Sale November 4, 2011, 12:53 pm

    Fantastic post, I count on many more post from you. All your posts contain useful information.

    Reply
  • Caoimhin November 4, 2011, 1:28 pm

    Great post. It is good to get a debriefing on how it worked. I am using 2 MR Heaters this year as back up heat and have very actively started looking at wood-stoves. I use my generator camping with the RV so I know it works regularly and will power the RV well including the AC. At home I like your idea on separate cords and strips. I was wondering about putting the generator in my attached garage and extending the exhaust pipe out through the exterior wall. The house is 8 yrs old, garage is sealed and vented as the furnace and gas water heater are out there. The sheet rock has a 2 hour burn rate and the area is well insulated. Am I missing anything? I am most concerned about carbon monoxide poisoning. Thanks to all of you on the info on surviving this storm. Believe it or not but it affected me here in New Mexico. We had several special contractors fly in from Penn. for a priority project at work. Their family’s lost power and heat from the storm and they had to go home. Our project is on hold now until next week. I told these contractors what they needed to do to protect their families as they work all over the country and are seldom home but 2 weekends a month. They told me they had never considered this and want to take me for coffee when they get back to pick my prepper mind. Be warm and safe.

    Reply
    • irishdutchuncle November 4, 2011, 6:29 pm

      i would still hesitate to run the generator in your garage.

      you need CO detection, with battery backup. your venting may be adequate for the furnace and water heater, but there’s no guarantee there’s enough for a malfunctioning generator. i would also add a “supply” vent for combustion air. you need to keep all vents clear of bird nests, etc.

      Joel Skousen shows some “inside” generator installations in his “Secure Home” book. (they aren’t portables)

      Reply
    • Jarhead Survivor November 4, 2011, 8:32 pm

      Caiomhin – I agree with Irish. I would think long and hard about running a generator indoors anywhere that you or your family members might have to visit for even a short time. Here in the Northeast there are people who die every single year from carbon monoxide poisoning.

      Reply
    • Jason November 4, 2011, 11:13 pm

      Caiomhim – See my response below ~

      Reply
  • john November 4, 2011, 4:50 pm

    re: pellet stove

    It is best if you have it on it’s own circuit with the deep cycle yellow top battery for the backup to run the hopper. Once the battery fails, about 9 volts, you start a truck with a decent alternator and recharge it with battery booster cables for a 1/2an hour. Much quieter with the truck then a generator and saves fuel in the long run, especially if you have a diesel truck. How we did it once or twice for an extended power outage.

    We piled the pellets inside the semi-heated garage so getting bags does not let out the cold and if you live where it is really cold, you roll your warmed vehicle outside to start it, then charge the battery.

    Reply
  • Jason November 4, 2011, 11:10 pm

    I fully agree with Irish & Jarhead about the generator. If you’ll notice, the heater & H2O heater exhaust works on the heat rising & draw principle like a chimney. The generator is like a car and don’t believe you can successfully and or safely vent it outside.

    Maybe try getting or building an insulated dog house & put the generator just outside the garage & run the power cords into the house/garage. That would be very safe especially if the interior of the dog house was drywalled.

    Reply
  • ben November 5, 2011, 12:39 am

    I live in a hurricane prone region and a lot of people have their gen sets wired to run their entire house like you’re talking about, but, the cities and power companies say not to do it. The thing is, after a disaster or power outage, when a lineman is restoring power to your block, he could be electrocuted by the power your house is generating when he assumed the lines were cold. It’s like if you have solar panels. If you generate more power than you’re using, the power company sends you a check instead of a bill. Thats because electricity runs both ways, so be careful and check with the proper authorities before having any work done. Sorry, don’t mean to be a buzz kill. Love your posts
    Ben

    Reply
    • Jarhead Survivor November 5, 2011, 9:51 am

      Hi Ben,

      What you’re talking about is when people will make their own hookups to the house without the help of an electrician. The transfer switch is used just so that this kind of thing doesn’t happen. There’s a switch you have to pull (at least in the one I’m looking at) that prevents what you’re talking about.

      Reply
  • Lynda November 5, 2011, 5:11 am

    I highly recommend getting that transfer switch/panel. Having just come off nearly six days without power here in MA, I can attest to the value of these. We were the only house in our neighborhood with running water(we all have wells) and had to dole out water to the neighbors just so they could have coffee and drinking water.

    We now keep 50 gallons of gas(with Sta-Bil) because the lines at the gas stations were very long. So were the lines at Dunkin’ Donuts.

    We kept the gennie running during the day, with the fridge and freezers at their coldest settings. At night the gennie was shut down. We placed water bottles that were frozen in the fridge and this kept the food from spoiling. Although the temps outside were chilly, we had a wood stove to keep warm.

    I hope that this major power outage will convince those people who do not have generators to get them, and if possible, transfer switches/panels. They do vary widely in cost and are well worth the investment to at least keep water pumps, fridges and freezers operational.

    Reply
    • Jarhead Survivor November 5, 2011, 9:54 am

      Hi Lynda – thanks for the comment. What you’re talking about is identical to the way I used my system – minus the transfer switch at this point. Excellent idea about putting ice in the fridge to keep things cool. I’ll be adding that to my little bag of tricks.

      The electricians will be sending me a quote next week for my own transfer switch. Thanks again for the affirmation.

      Reply
      • Jason November 5, 2011, 12:15 pm

        JH,
        JH,

        Way back when a refrigerator was called “ice box”, remember? People would buy or get deliveries of ice blocks to put in their insulated kitchen box.

        Since you live in cold country you could take empty plastic milk containers & leave them outside (filled with water of course) for
        your refer or emergency water. I have a small auxilary freezer that I keep the milk containers in for any extended power outage or the cooler for camping/hunting trips. My mom taught me that one.

        Reply
  • Lynda November 5, 2011, 11:19 am

    Jarhead, you’re welcome. Two of our neighbors will now be doing this. It’s no fun going six days without running water, using snow to flush toilets and not being able to take a shower.
    The total cost for ours including generator was $2,500.00
    I sprung a grand for the gennie, $900.00 for the transfer panel and the rest for the electricians’ fee. These costs vary widely depending on what you need to operate in your home.
    Since we all have wells on our street(ours is 600 ft. deep), we needed to be able to do this, keep fridges and freezers operational and if need be, the furnace, although we primarily use the wood stove.

    My feeling is that this investment is worth much more than the serious money people drop on smartphones, blackberry’s, flat panel televisions and the latest electronic gadgetry.

    BTW, we store alot of water: several 55 gallon drums, 5 gallon totes and we just purchased several collapsible 5 gallon containers. This way, when the neighbors need some water we can provide it if necessary. We keep a minimum of 30 gallons of gas and will up this to 50 gallons treated with Sta-Bil.

    You had to be here to see the long lines at the gas stations and Dunkin’ Donuts. Several stories of very angry people.

    Just got a phone call from my older neighbor thanking us. Overall, this longish power outage was an excellent opportunity to assess our weaknesses and strengths, as well as assess how our neighbors will fare if something more serious comes along. We now know who has got their act together and who does not.

    Those frozen water bottles: I kept those in the freezer right after Hurricane Irene tore through very close to us. My husband thought about putting them in the fridge overnight. We learn as we go along. :-)

    Good luck with your electrical endeavors.

    Reply
    • Anonymous November 5, 2011, 12:03 pm

      Lynda,

      I’d recommend rotating your gas supply & not totally depend on Sta-Bil. All things breakdown & lose potency over time …. kind of like people, which is why divorce is so common – ha, ha :-D

      Reply
      • Jason November 5, 2011, 12:06 pm

        Sorry – that last comment was from me

        Reply
      • Lynda November 5, 2011, 1:36 pm

        Anon, correct. We number and rotate the containers. First In, First Out, just like everything else. We also test run the gennie every few weeks, especially in this cold New England weather.

        Now, about that divorce….just kidding!

        Reply
  • western mass man November 5, 2011, 11:58 am

    I’m going off from the top of my head, but if memory serves me, the reason your pellet stove wont run is because of the sine wave of the power.
    Any device that works off digital timing wont work properly from a generator (alarm clocks, coffee pots). Digital timing works off of the pure sine wave produced from the grid. Pellet stoves have digital timing to work the auger and other electronics. Generator power is dirty so to speak. Its ok to run a laptop from it, but not your desktop.
    A pure sine wave generator or a UPS should cure the problem.
    This is the first link I got…

    http://www.homebackuppower.co.za/220volt-ac-ups.html

    Reply
  • Don November 5, 2011, 8:20 pm

    Why wouldn’t the generator run the pellet stove? Can’t believe it would use 220v, is it hardwired into a junction box or ???

    Reply
  • CaptainMike November 5, 2011, 8:51 pm

    One thing I notice about all the generator threads on various forums is everyone trying to power refrigerators and freezers. If it is near or below freezing couldn’t you locate a freezer outside or place it in a space that could be reduced to ambient temps? I did 33 days without power after Frances and then 18 after Jeanne. Worst problem here is heat stress/stroke. No point in trying to keep fridge/freezer running in 100 degree temps. They would just make the inside of your house hotter. The exception being if you were to go whole house and use propane instead of gasoline. Gas was unobtainable by the 7th or 8th day of the outages at any price. I find it impractical to store more than about 40 gallons. I am trying to get things set up with just light solar, to hell with electricity, you’d just make a target of yourself in a long term grid down.

    Reply
  • Midwesterner November 8, 2011, 10:02 am

    Sorry about posting late but I just found this site & am happy I did. As far as generators go I have one hooked to an extra fuse box in the attached garage. When the power goes out I flip a butterfly switch which shuts off the juice from the electric company. I then start the generator & let it build up power. I then start flipping the 4 fuses, one runs the furnace, one the kitchen, one the utility room with my sump pump, & the forth the master bedroom. I had an HVAC guy build me a muffler that keeps the noise down & also vents the exhaust to a hose that is attached to the window. I do keep detectors/sensors in both the garage & house to check for carbon monoxide.
    I did not want top be outside trying to start the generator, or letting it run with the garage door open during a storm. I have used it this way for about ten years with no problems.

    Midwesterner

    Reply
  • Legion7 November 17, 2011, 3:34 pm

    I have my generator plumbed in through the dryer 220 outlet, just remember to ALWAYS DISCONNECT FROM THE GRID first!!! That said, we lost power a couple of years ago for 10 days. I have several 5 gallon cans AND an old semi-truck fuel tank full of fuel with FUEL SAVER to extend it’s life. The fuel gets rotated every summer as I use it to run the lawn tractor. I felt some glee as the tools in my neighborhood who bought jet skiis and other useless crap shivered, while I watched satellite TV and my Christmas tree’s blinking lights reminded all in the neighborhood that I might not have kept up with the Jones’ but I certainly was better off. Several people bought generators once the local home supply store opened after several days, but then returned them after the power came back on. The next winter, the scene played out again. Generators were purchased and then returned. These people will never learn. What happens once there is no “return policy”?

    Reply

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