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Living Freedom by Claire Wolfe. Musings about personal freedom and finding it within ourselves.

Want to Comment on a blog post? Look for and click on the blue No Comments or # Comments at the end of each post.

Claire Wolfe

Election, Sandy, and California Joe on freezers and generators

Thursday, November 8th, 2012

Can we all get back to normal now, after that amazingly anticlimactic election?

But speaking of things not being back to normal, some folks are still reeling after Hurricane Superstorm Sandy. Even one frequent commenter here at the blog still hasn’t been heard from, and while that could be just because he’s not talking to us, he and his family were near “ground zero” New Jersey — where some folks are still reportedly without power, reliable food supplies, or running water, 10 days after the storm hit.

So much for the old “three-day” supply recommendations.

Maddeningly, many government sources are still feeding us the three-day pabulum, even though Katrina, and now her sister (or is it brother?) Sandy have shown how painfully inadequate those recommendations are.

Even when government finally does show up to “help” … well, here’s an example and and here’s another of just how helpful government agents might be. (H/T Wendy for the first example)

Well, you already know that. Before Sandy we were talking about generators and keeping food safe in power outages (talk about good timing). A reader from Germany had some things to add to that discussion and I wanted to post them here.

This is from “California Joe,” whose mini-bio is below.

Freezers and blackouts: A good freezer (top loading) can bridge a three-day blackout, when full. When half-full, less. Low energy consumption per cubic foot and year equals good freezer. It’s even cheaper to buy a highly efficient freezer than a standard freezer and a generator. A good freezer will not only keep the electricity bill down, it will even take care of your precious grass fed beef when blackout occurs during your absence (weekend trip out of state to haul in more meat).

Used high quality freezers: 8 years ago I bought a (then 10-15 years old) used 12-cubic-foot freezer. It had been sold in the early nineties with the claim of 198 kWh/year. It still uses about 10% less than that. Talk about aging in grace. It’s an AEG machine, maybe one of the best ever built. They sometimes used it in early solar electric systems back when those systems were ridiculously expensive. The freezer cost me 10 €.

Starting a freezer on an electric generator/alternator: In the first few seconds of starting to run, a freezer (as any compressor engine) can use up to 12 times the running wattage. So my 75-W-freezer will need a 900-W-generator minimum simply to start. Look up the wattage of your freezer though, it may be waaay higher. I remember Ragnar Benson using 400-W-freezers :-/

If a generator is too big, it wastes a lot of fuel. Especially petrol engines don’t run efficiently when almost idling. My running freezer will use 75 Watts, so a 2500-W-generator would be bored as hell.

2000i Honda generators are top notch. Therefore the price – they are worth it. I decided to use a cheap china built generator with Briggs & Stratton instead. Good enough for infrequent use. In an RV or an off-grid homestead I would use the Honda (or diesel).

Long term storage of petrol fuel: even stabilized ethanol free petrol stores best in metal containers like military surplus jerry cans. Why this? Petrol contains some highly volatile stuff which over times permeates through plastic. This is the reason plastic petrol cans get “hollow cheeks” over time. Wrapping them in contractors grade aluminium foil helps. When the highly volatile stuff is gone, the remaining fuel is low quality and will make problems when starting an engine. A running generator engine will usually have no problems consuming a mix of new fuel and “hollow cheek” stuff. Don’t try this with your Ferrari. ;-)

“California Joe” (the handle is a nod to the old U.S. sniper; he has never been to California) is “an engineer, anarchist and do-it-yourself junkie. I work in solar energy research and live in a rural southern Germany. Life-changing moment: During college, I bumped into the 1995 Loompanics Catalog (in a headshop, actually). Biggest project: Turn old farmhouse to energy-efficient dreamhouse.”

“Joe” also emailed a fair bit of information about solar power systems and batteries, which might be a topic for another day or something I’ll mail to friends who have to deal with it. Me, I’m not “doing” solar again until I can buy a complete solar kit-in-a-box, with EZ instructions, guaranteed to power full-size houses on the Pacific NorthWET coast. On, and for under $5,000.

19 Responses to “Election, Sandy, and California Joe on freezers and generators”

  1. Laird Says:

    FWIW, I’m still very much interested in solar power systems, batteries, etc. (hence my query on the original thread dealing with generators). Not ready for a whole-house system; not interested (yet) in getting off the grid, just want backup capability for power outages and maybe to run a few things on the solar system to keep the electric bills down. So if you do decide to run the topic another day I’ll be looking forward to it. Thanks.

  2. Claire Says:

    Laird — I’ll ask “California Joe” if he wants to (or feels qualified to) put together a post specifically about solar power for emergencies.

  3. Scott Says:

    I’ve had “window solar” power-tiny solar panels that keep a few Nimh/NiCad batteries charged for years now. Total investment? Under $30. Coupled with a few LED converted Maglites, I can have light for almost a week, continuously. I just got what amounts to micro-solar power supply for about $7 from American Science and Surplus-a smartphone-sized solar panel/lithium battery with a series of adapters that will keep small electronics going. Folded up, it fits in a jacket pocket.
    My generator sounds like a train-quiet, it ain’t. If I get another, it will be a Honda-these are very quiet.
    I was given a candle lantern as a gift-this thing is great-a little heat and light, from a stubby candle that’s supposed to last 9 hours (close, but not quite). Folded up. it’s smaller than a V-8 juice can…I bought a dozen extra candles for it, as well.

  4. ILTim Says:

    What about power inverters + your car in place of a generator? Today’s post on instapundit has left me thinking about that.

  5. Claire Says:

    ILTim — That subject also came up here last time we talked about generators. I think it was BusyPoorDad who mentioned a Duracell 800-watt inverter that looks pretty slick.

    The problem (as I understand it) comes with the compressor motors in freezers and refrigerators. You’d have to make absolutely sure the inverter could handle the starting wattage. I’ve been trying to find that out for my appliances and having a fair bit of trouble. Some generator sites say to figure about 2x as much wattage for starting. But others here — people who know — keep saying the starting wattage demand can be vastly higher than that.

  6. ILTim Says:

    I wonder if those kill-a-watt meters accurately show startup draw.

    I also wonder how useful the larger computer battery backups might be. My small back-ups pro 700 displays power draw in watts, run time, etc. Running a dual-monitor cad workstation shows 140w at idle for 18min run time. Seems like it has all the guts needed to provide power arbitrage between any household load and any power source….. hmmm…

  7. Claire Says:

    Hm. I’ve heard of those Kill-A-Watt meters. Never tried one. I kept hearing about meters that you actually had to wire in to read. Wasn’t going to do that. But clearly, since every chart on surge/starting wattage is only an estimate — and some are wildly off — this would seem like a possible way to go when you really, really need to know how to size emergency power supplies. They don’t seem designed to give “this minute” readings, though. Seem more designed for measuring long-term power use.

    Sigh. Somebody else hereabouts will know from experience.

    “California Joe” said something about using UPSes as part of a backup power system. Even though he was being very good about not using engineer-speak, I was feeling a little overwhelmed by info at that moment.

  8. Roger Says:

    In my career with the British forces I went to some real hellhole places. At everyone I saw aid sent by the USA. Be it tents, food,medical aid or rescue equipment. It was always there. Yet not once have I heard real concern or the possibility of collecting aid for the victims of Sandy(or Katrina for that matter). After all the occasions that both Uncle Sam and the various charities ( both supported by the US people) have stepped up to the crease it would be nice just to hear the offer at least even if was declined.

  9. Mari Says:

    News from relatives living on Long Island, New York

    My brother and sister-in-law live on the North Shore of Long Island and haven’t had power since the Sandy storm. Both are disabled – she from an auto accident long ago and he from MS. They are now freezing in an unheated house. Their suffering is from lack of electric power and gas for vehicles and generators. Their home and local roads were not damaged in the storm and I wasn’t even worried about them because I know their area is high and dry.

    There is a possibility they won’t have power until after Thanksgiving. Unfortunately, “the people” on Long Island wanted public power and they got their wish in the mid 90’s when a New York State government entity, LIPA, took over the pricey but competent private utility. Maybe there are times when it is necessary to vote. I voted with my feet long before LIPA caused me any grief.

    My sources tell me that the gas problems are caused by the lack of ethanol. There is plenty of gas, just no ethanol to blend with the gas and a problem with assembling the New York State legislature to change the laws related to gas additives. I can’t confirm this. There seems to be a news blackout on the subject.

    The good news is that my son and grandson are OK. Both are preppers – they even watched DVD’s during the blackout. I just added prepper to my MS Word dictionary. There is incredible hardship in some areas on the south shore of Long Island – whole communities no longer exist. There are curfews. There are violent encounters. Sandy may be yesterday’s news, but there are real people out there in life threatening situations.


  10. jed Says:

    Yep, just like the gov-goons to show up and kick you in the teeth when you’re down. Hey, can’t have people surviving on non-inspected foodstuffs. Reminds of a story I read some years back on the underground NY restaurant scene. Tiny places, run out of an apartment, devilishly difficult to get a referral to. Run by people just fed up with the damn food police.

    In re. solar, you can get temporary extra wattage for starting motors by having a larger number of storage batteries. But your solar panels need to supply only enough to keep up with average demand.

    One could look into propane freezers.

  11. Claire Says:

    Mari — Thanks for the update. That’s awful about your brother and sister-in-law, especially with a nor’easter coming in on top of Sandy. Much better news about your son and grandson.

    It really is shocking how long the outages and shortages are lasting — whatever the cause.

  12. Joe in Reno Says:

    You can bridge the generator/ start up wattage problem by having a “hard start” starting capacitor installed on the on the refrigerator/ freezer/ furnace. Mostly they are used on commercial units but can be installed on most domestic hard starting ( high wattage start) appliances & motors. You don’t want to install one your self unless you understand capacitors and electricity as there is a serious shock hazrd even with the appliance unplugged.
    something like this:

  13. Bonnie Says:

    This is about freezers – not generators. To keep your freezer working its best, as you take food out, put in water jugs. I use 1/2 gallon & quart plastic jugs that milk & buttermilk come in. The smaller sizes are more versitile than gallon jugs.

    Being full, the freezer will work more efficiently & you’ll have water for short term emergencies.

    God bless,
    Opportunity Farm

  14. Mark Call Says:

    Me, too…still VERY interested in solar, batteries, and related info. I’m now VERY ‘off-grid’ here in the southern Colorado mountains (great solar loc) and have an engineering background (EE) so the tech issues are no problem, and I find messin’ with the systems a lot of fun.

    Big concern: batteries, and current technology, still frankly sucks. It’s far and away the ‘Achilles heel’ of the system. (Anyone have any experience with the supposedly-reliable but without doubt HIDEOUSLY expensive Edison nickel batteries? Lifetime at least looks very good.)

    Claire: THE key to solar (IMHO) that is literally paradigm-changing:
    LED light bulbs; 4W will light a room now. (Costco, et al) And they should last (power supplies are now prolly the issue). I’ve been buying the LED xmas bulb strings for several years in the ‘after-xmas’ markdowns for a dollar a string or so. 3W, and they will light a staircase or hallway nicely.

  15. Mark Call Says:

    PS> I LOVE my li’l Honda 2KW gen. Big enuf to step in and refresh the batteries, run most tools/saws, still small enough to tote a bit. And REAL fuel-efficient! (“eco-mode”)

  16. Mark Call Says:

    PSS> I had expected to be able to buy reasonable “super-caps” by now. Been watchin’ that technology for years, off and on, but still don’t see anything cost-effective. Should beat the heck out of batteries for solar ‘charge-discharge’ application at some point. (e-Cars, too; I’ll hold off on conspiracy thoughts… ;)

  17. Ellendra Says:

    Mari: one idea for staying warm when the power is out is to build a pillow fort. Also great for keeping the kids busy. Start with a mattress as the floor, and stack up every pillow and cushion you can find around it, top it off with every blanket, sheet, and coat you can find, and crawl inside. You can stay amazingly warm inside one of those.

  18. CaliforniaJoe Says:

    @Laird: Short answer: Solar energy = unreliable = not good for emergency use. Long answer: I will write something on solar power, backup power, off-grid, cutting electricity bills etc. and mail it to Claire. Will take some time.

    @Claire: Kill-A-Watt meters are too slow to show startup power. Just measure running wattage and multiply it by rule-of-thumb numbers (10-12x for freezers, etc.).

    Inverters and startup power, by example of a quality piece: A swiss Studer inverter AJ-1300 can power 1000W indefinitely, 1300W for 30 min., 2000W for 5 min. and a whopping 2800W for 5 sec. 5 seconds is long enough to start a freezer. In fact, I could start all 3 of our freezers simultaneously on this 1000-$-inverter and run phone,fax,router,notebook,LED lighting,stereo/whatnot on the side ;-)

    An off-grid-systems based solely on solar power won’t work in most states. A well designed/maintained system in – say – New Mexico will do, but more often than not systems are neither well designed nor maintained, so fuggedaboutit.

    A good off-grid-system for the NorthWET would require solar panels + water-cooled diesel generator. This is exactly what I am building for our homestead (waste heat of the generator feeds central heating, solar thermal system, gas cooking range, firewood stove, woodburning boiler stove; generator runs on used cooking-oil if need be).

    Note: I am NOT recommending solar power to Claire. It’s not good for her blood pressure, and I don’t want to do any harm :-)

    @Bonnie: Good idea. If you take the frozen water jugs out of the freezer, don’t forget to defrost them in the fridge. Saves energy.

    @Mark Call: Off-grid systems over here in Europe still mainly use big lead-acid-cells (2V). Lifetime usually 7-20 years with proper care, depending on battery type and sizing. I would specifically prefer fork-lift cells (higher self-discharge, but cheaper).

  19. Mari Says:

    Ellendra: Thanks for info about the pillow fort. Maybe it would be possible to build something similar around a wheel chair or recliner. It’s good to have some low-tech and no-tech solutions just in case all other preps fail. My disabled family members are recovering from their 12 day grid-down ordeal and are among the many recent recruits to the prepping community.

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