A Letter – and Lessons – from a Sandy Survivor

A heavy-duty and preferably sound insulated generator is an essential item. Consider a dual-fuel generator than runs on natural gas AND either propane or diesel or petrol.

This letter from reader John has an essential lesson in it for us all – it is not sufficient merely to buy in and stock up on emergency resources, such as a generator.  It is necessary to then test them thoroughly in a simulated emergency situation so as to be sure they will work reliably when called upon to do so.

Oh yes – and read the manuals of all such devices, too.  Sometimes some very significant things can be hidden in the back pages, such as maintenance requirements that are mandatory rather than optional.

One more comment before his letter.  By all means get a generator that can run of natural (piped from the utility) gas, but make sure it will run on some other fuel source too, and make sure you have sufficient fuel.  The whole idea of disaster planning is to become entirely independent and to not need to rely on any external sources or services.  If your whole disaster preparedness plan revolves around an assumption that your natural gas supply will continue to work, the same as normal, then guess what is almost sure to happen?  The gas service will fail, and you’ll find yourself with lots of gas-powered appliances, but no gas to power them.

Hi David,

We are getting back on our feet and adjusting to the lack of electricity.  The big problem here is getting gasoline for our cars and generators.  A lot of stations don’t have power and the USCG limited some barge traffic and some refineries shut down for the storm, etc, etc!  My daughter waited in line for gas at our local station this morning for about three hours.  The police were on hand to make sure that everyone behaved.

NJ is one of the two US states that won’t let you pump your own gas.  That’s probably a very good idea in this situation.  We have two cars and filled up the one that gets the best mileage.  The station is local so I could walk up the street and give my daughter a break while she waited to fill up with some Russian Owned Lukoil gasoline!

Speaking of generators I’m probably going to get one that runs on propane or LNG.  If I get a whole house unit I’ll get one that runs off of my natural gas service.

A good friend built his new house in PA with a backup generator that uses his heating system’s propane tank (600 gallons) for fuel.  Funny thing is that he had a heck of a time getting it to work.  After many years and several replaced engine blocks it was ready to go.  It lasted a couple of days during Irene and then it seized up.  His repair man told him that he had bought a single cylinder engine that was rated for around 50 hours before an oil change was needed.  He said that the two cylinder engine is the continuous duty one!

Oh well, he told me today he had no problems with his new two cylinder engine for the five days he was without commercial power.  Well, that’s not true.  He collects clocks and the ones that have AC motors all ran fast.  He’s probably wasting his time to complain to the service tech.  I wonder if the waveform coming off the generator is even a pure sine wave in the first place.  He’s a retired EE so I guess he can figure it out for himself.

I just have a couple of large and out of date cellphone tower UPS batteries that my brother gave me.  I’m using one of them to charge our cell phone batteries and to make some 110 V AC from a small 12 V inverter to recharge my laptop and Hot-Spot batteries.  I hope the first one lasts a week as they are very heavy to carry up to the dinning room from the basement.

The power company folks are still talking about getting us back by the 14th.  However they also said it could take even longer!  I just finished throwing out a lot of food.  I have an old freezer that doesn’t self defrost.  Good thing I didn’t defrost it as I now have a large “icebox” for our milk and other cold stuff that we use.  Most of the local supermarkets have power and are open and folks all around us have power. My daughter is over at a friend’s house doing the laundry.

The only real problem we all have is getting gasoline for our cars and generators.  By the way, I really have to thank God that someone invented LEDs.  I have one dual LED unit that clips on to the top of a 9 Volt battery. It will run continuously on low for a full year off of a 9V lithium battery!

There is maybe one benefit of losing power…we’re all getting plenty of sleep, maybe even too much!

I better say goodbye as it’s getting darker here and I have to set the table for dinner while I can still see it.  EST will be a nice change for those of us who have no electricity!  We’re lucky, a neighbor and good friend of our family cooked dinner for us tonight.


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