In our prepping series, we already talked about some others, like records. One of the middle tier needs for prepping is energy, and that’s what we are going to talk about today.

Many of the other things that we rely on for survival rely upon energy. We use it for a lot of things- heating, cooling, light, communications, all sorts of the things that we use rely upon energy. In some parts of the country, heat is important. Here in Florida, not so much. What we need is energy for cooking, light, air conditioning (summer heat will kill you more than our mild winters), communications, and other things.

The most useful of these is electricity. We could use propane for cooking, but it isn’t practical for other things. Since electricity is what is most useful, that’s where we are going to look. Most of the time, we rely on the electric grid. However, anyone who has lived through something as mundane (for Florida) as a hurricane know that it isn’t unusual to lose power for several days. In fact, during the ten year period that ended in December, we had no fewer than four electrical outages. Those outages ranged in duration from two hours all the way to three days.

I want to have a redundant backup because that is what prepping is. Knowing that not being prepared for a grid failure is a violation of the 7P rule, I want to plan to ride out a grid failure. Since the stakes are high as well as the cost, I am going to research and plan the crap out of this. I will post the results of my research for others to benefit. I will also post the results once the system is installed. I report, you decide.

There are three methods of backing up our electrical needs:

  • A gasoline powered portable generator that powers selected loads. The advantage is that it has a small upfront cost of around $1,000 or so. Disadvantages are that you can only power a few, small loads, and that you have to refuel the thing every few hours. The power goes out, you have to go rig the generator, which takes a bit of time. They are also noisy. The one I have now (a 9kw gasoline powered genny) goes through about one and a half gallons per hour.
  • A mounted generator that powers all or most of the loads in the house. The advantages here are that it powers more than does a portable genny, and it needs to be refueled less often since the fuel supply can be buried in the yard. It’s nice- the grid drops out, and within seconds, your genny takes over and powers the house. The disadvantages are that it costs more (the quote I got for a whole house generator was just under $15,000 including the transfer switch, permits, cable trench, propane tank delivery, 240 gallons of propane, tank utility, back filling the trench and a 10 year warranty.) 240 gallons of propane will last about three to five days, which will get you through most minor to moderate outages, but after that you are in the dark.
  • The third option, as I already mentioned is a solar setup. I am pricing out a 9 kw solar system with batteries. I have been doing a ton of research and have discovered that there is a lot of BS out there. Enough that the solar discussion will be its own separate post or two. The advantage over the generator system is that it doesn’t need refueling and if done correctly, it can power the entire house indefinitely. Many people who have solar systems don’t even notice when the grid fails. The disadvantage is that it isn’t cheap. A solar system can cost as much as $30,000 or more. There are ways to offset that, but that will be for the future post. The good news here is that 30% of whatever you spend on solar can be recouped in the form of a nonrefundable tax credit* that isn’t available for a fueled generator. More there on a future post.

The first thing that we did was calculate our electrical needs. Our average electrical use is about 700 kilowatt hours per month. Our highest use has been 43 kilowatt hours in a single day. Our lowest has been 10 kilowatt hours in a day, but we were out of town. The average is about 25 kWh/day. These numbers are for the new house, so we haven’t seen what it is like to run the air conditioning on a hot day, yet.

To rein the cost of air conditioning, I am installing smart thermostats for our two AC units. That will allow me to control and monitor our AC use more accurately. The smart thermostat that I have selected is the Ecobee smart thermostat. It accurately tracks your AC and heat usage and compares you to similar homes. It has a lot of added features that help maintain comfort at a minimum amount of utility cost.

So now that I know what I need, I can plan for what option will be the best. Another post coming on that.

Someone in comments suggested pairing a Goal Zero with 10 gallons of propane and a couple of 400 watt solar cells. That is a horrible option. You only get 3.6 kw of power for more than $13,000. That is the least cost effective of the options and was one I wasn’t prepared to consider.

* A refundable tax credit is one that can be used to reduce your taxes paid in a given year. What nonrefundable means is that, if your taxes owed are $400, and you get a credit of $500, you can’t receive the $100 as a refund. Since I always pay more than $30k a year in taxes, this isn’t going to be an issue with me.

Categories: Electric and Power


Anon2025 · April 2, 2024 at 7:10 am

You can add an extended run tank to the small Honda generators like this:

Jonathan · April 2, 2024 at 8:26 am

When I look at emergency power, I don’t plan to replace my whole power use, I plan to replace what I need.
The cheapest power available is what you don’t use. Look for ways to cut power usage. Think about how much you need to heat or cool, how many loads you have, and any alternate power sources.
For example, When I’ve been in my longest long power outage (4 days), I powered some lights, the fridge, a room AC, and occasional microwave use. I used 2 5 gallon cans of gas in that time.
Our current house has a propane stove, so I don’t need electric to cook, and I can use it to heat short term if needed. The hot water heater is also propane so I always have hot water.
But here I’m on a well, so I need to figure out power for that (when I had the 4 day outage I was on rural water).

    Divemedic · April 2, 2024 at 9:01 am

    Each person’s power situation is unique. I am putting together the information. I inform, you decide. I encourage each of my readers to calculate your needs and determine what you can live with. As long as I am doing it, I might as well cover the entire house.

    I don’t have gas for any appliances, everything in my house is electric.
    As far as air conditioning- it really isn’t an option in this area. Temperatures and humidity in this area are high enough to be deadly at worst, and extremely uncomfortable at best. When I am on the portable genny, I have a one room air conditioner.

C · April 2, 2024 at 8:46 am

You should probably mention that you need a battery backup as part of the solar system.

    Divemedic · April 2, 2024 at 9:00 am

    That’s in the future posts.

Spectre of the Four Horsemen · April 2, 2024 at 8:58 am

Climate hysteria is all about energy control or depopulation.
I’m not wasting any time helping dullards who love fondling tech gadgets and living in a delusion.
They better move along quickly or do the cowboy western richochet dance.
Most cannot handle reality when it is your best friend for survival.

    Divemedic · April 2, 2024 at 9:04 am

    There was nothing in this post or in the comments about climate change. This post is about my search for an alternate/emergency power source that will function in the event that the grid is down.

anon2025 · April 2, 2024 at 9:03 am

Also in an extended run scenario you will want to change the oil every 2-3 days 24*3=72 hours run time. It adds up quick.
Also the expected life of a normal whole house generator is 400 hours for air cooled engines – meaning anything reasonably priced. For extended generator life look for water cooled as the first clue.

    Divemedic · April 2, 2024 at 9:12 am

    I didn’t even get into that. Generator maintenance is about $1000 a year in fuel, oil, and filters. The genny itself needs to be replaced every 12-20 years.

    Of course, solar has some ongoing maintenance as well. The panels need periodic cleaning so dirt and mold don’t degrade their power output. Batteries need to be replaced ever 10-12 years. PV panels need replacing every 25-30 years.

      Jonathan · April 2, 2024 at 3:49 pm

      From my experience, those replacement timelines for solar components are VERY optimistic.
      I would expect battery replacement no longer than every 5 years and solar panel replacement 12 to 15 unless you’re very lucky – and of course, a bad storm can shorten that interval even further at the time you most need their power.

D · April 2, 2024 at 2:06 pm

> These numbers are for the new house, so we haven’t seen what it is like to run the air conditioning on a hot day, yet.

Two things that drastically reduced our power usage were going with a mini-split and replacing our old washer/dryer with a GE Profile washer/dryer. It will wash *and* dry clothes in the same unit, and it uses a 15-amp plug (and no air vent pipe). We typically run 3 loads of laundry per day and this was a huge wattage saver.

If you buy any sort of smart device (i.e. thermostat, aircon, washer/dryer, etc…) you might want to see if it’s compatible with Home Assistant. It’s open source and can automate things around your house. When there’s no grid-power available, it automatically stops the AC, dishwasher, washer/dryer, turns off most lights, etc… It significantly reduces our power usage when on battery. I’d love to try one of the Leviton Smart Load Centers, but it’s too much of an ordeal at the moment to get an electrician out. They’re all busy prepping to rape money out of the schools when they go on summer vacation.

> Someone in comments suggested pairing a Goal Zero with 10 gallons of propane

I had to look that one up. Terrible. It’s so much cheaper if you’re mildly handy with electricity to buy some 48V batteries and an inverter. EG4 makes something called a “Chargeverter” that takes in generator power via 30A twistlock, and outputs 48vdc for your batteries. Super handy way to avoid the larger and more expensive whole home generators.

> A refundable tax credit is one that can be used to reduce your taxes paid in a given year.

Funny…after our previous conversation, my accountants called and revised my taxes down by ~$7k. I asked why, and they started to explain how my new solar install was an NRTC for the next ~8 years.

dc · April 2, 2024 at 3:50 pm

I am watching your Solar discussion closely, I too have been wanting solar but cannot seem to get any serious sales people. I had a guy come out and his big pitch was saving me a couple hundred bucks on my monthly bill. He never came back.

We do not want to be connected to the grid; My understanding is if the grid goes down FPL will come out and turn off my panels in order to not back-fill the grid and injuring technicians.

    Rick T · April 2, 2024 at 9:35 pm

    DC, your utility doesn’t have to do it, a PV-only system will automatically shut down when the grid drops. The technical term Grid-tied for inverters in systems without energy storage. It isn’t just injuring linemen, you would likely burn out your system if you tried to back-feed your entire neighborhood.

    When you add a battery (or generator) you add an isolating transfer switch that isolates your house and power supply from the grid on failure. Generators may have a manual or automatic transfer (auto-start requires automatic transfer). Solar/Battery systems have a Grid Forming inverter that can create a 60Hz sine wave without the main power grid being available.

      dc · April 3, 2024 at 5:29 am

      Thanks, Rick. I have been unable to get a straight answer about being tied to the grid. We have a generac with auto-switch but propane and the physical motor is finite.

    Divemedic · April 3, 2024 at 6:55 am

    To add, there are different ways of doing this. For example, Tesla has a switch called the “Tesla backup switch” that is placed in the meter box, behind the electric meter. When the grid goes down, the relay opens, disconnecting your solar system from the grid. This switch is required to be installed in all solar systems that remain active when the grid is down.

Phil B · April 2, 2024 at 6:12 pm

This guy has some interesting cooking stoves made from old gas cylinders.

I like these :

But these two with a hot water heater around the chimney are my favourites:

I’d try to work in the rocket stove concept as a source of heat and the oven/grill idea with the hot water cylinder. Having a supply of hot water to wash the dishes and make a brew of coffee is handy. And, of course, for personal hygiene purposes. Make them with detachable/folding legs and stove pipe and you’d be good to go. Keeping the flames away from the pans makes them much easier to keep clean too and that saves water and washing.

If you are going to use it during a grid down situation, then lay in a supply of coal. The smell of wood smoke is distinctive and carries a long way. Coal doesn’t give that same smell signature so I’d lay in maybe a years supply – it is basically rock so won’t mind being wet or left outdoors – until the zombie hordes are gone then revert back to wood.

Then all you need is a small(ish) generator for electricity if you are not cooking with that heat source.

Peter Franks · April 2, 2024 at 11:03 pm

Morale booster pack with visit to Pineland and engineer Harold the Brain, he is getting a 1000 gallon gasoline tank installed on the acreage.
Next time I can gas up, they talk of moving because 4 homes and a cul de sac came in, I told them NO.
I have found Shangri-La, so beautiful there, almost like Kansas with the howling wind because of no windbreakers and the little wood patches here and there with swift named creek nearby for water.

    Divemedic · April 3, 2024 at 4:47 am

    This post makes no sense at all. I can’t even tell what you are trying to say.

Designing Our System – Area Ocho · April 10, 2024 at 5:07 am

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