Friday, June 14, 2013

How to survive a blackout in an apartment

Living in a Studio aparment on the 19th floor and don't have a car? Has the power gone out and you're now in the dark? Easily remedied!

What we're going to do is teach you how to set up your own backup system with a small footprint. This will be small enough to fit in the bottom of your pantry or in a closet. It'll take up about 2'x4'x2' of space. No more than a plastic packing tubs worth of size. In fact, if you wanted to put it all in that tub, you could.

First thing you're going to need is batteries. Several of them. Specifically Deep Cycle batteries designed for deep discharge. The ones I recommend for inside of residences is going to be a sealed battery. One that won't give off toxic or explosive gasses.
There are batteries out there that are massive and would be better suited for a system like this. But they weigh in at between 120 and 300 lbs. I'd like to see you lug that up a stairwell or down a hallway. It's not happening. And those batteries are huge in size. Not conducive for small apartments What we're going to look at is using several smaller batteries of about 40-50 amp hours. These batteries are smaller, and able to be carried by nearly anyone.
The ones I recommend are these:

They are light weight (~23lbs) a piece. You will need at least 3 to give you a solid battery bank. You want to connect the battery terminals together, just like jumping a car battery. Red to red, and black to black. All the way down the string. This is called connecting the batteries in parallel. You're keeping the voltage the same, but increasing the runtime.
The inverter you want to run is this inverter: 

This inverter is designed to plug into your wall, charge those batteries and keep them healthy until which point the power goes out. Then the inverter will automatically switch to start running off of your battery bank. So if you keep things like your computer or refrigerator plugged in to it all the time, you'll never have to worry about losing power.
The inverter will connect to just one of the batteries using a set of cables. These will work just fine: 

Be careful not to put anything on top of these wires as you risk a short. So keeping them inside the aforementioned tub might eliminate that risk. You can run the extension cable through a hole you cut in the side of the tub to whatever appliance you don't want to lose power to.
This is going to essentially be a UPS (Uninterruptable Power Supply) with a much greater capacity and less money than one you can buy commercially.
When the power goes out, it will switch over in less than 10ms (that's 0.01 seconds roughly, faster than the blink of an eye). So it's perfect for servers, computers, refrigerators, lights and more. You can charge your phones and laptops off of this unit. You can even run your television, radios and possibly a small microwave from this unit.
With 3 batteries, you'll get between 4 and 8 hours of power if you're conservative. If you're running 800+ watts all the time, those batteries will last you about an hour. If you need to, buy about 10 of those batteries to last you 24-48 hours conservatively. Use CFL or LED light bulbs if you're only going to need it for lighting. This will last you for a very, very long time.
Feel free to ask questions in the comments below.

How to Survive A Power Outage Blackout Using your Car

Now we're on to powering larger appliances like Big TV's, Coffee Makers, Microwaves, Space Heaters and Refrigerators from your car. In the field I work in, everyone always asks this question: "I want to run my whole house off of an inverter, what size inverter do I need?"

Let me stop you right there. Stop. Think about it. How much power does a whole house use? Better yet, how much power does my house use versus my neighbors house versus your house? Do our power bills match up exactly? Simple answer: No.

No house uses the same amount of power. Your 2500 Watt Industrial Microwave drinks power faster than my $100 Wal-Mart bought microwave. My 55 Inch LED LCD screen uses less power than your 40 Inch Plasma. Your neighbors house uses all standard incandescent bulbs while you have all CFL bulbs. You will consume less power than him with all of your lights on, than if he only turned on two or three of his lights. There's no definitive answer. It's all based on what you individually draw. On what your appliances use.

There's still hope! You could always buy one of these bad boys:


And about 20 AGM 12 Volt Sealed Lead Acid Batteries: 

And have yourself a fairly solid setup. But that's expensive. We're talking about running a few appliances from your car, since you don't have room to set up such a massive backup system.
So; we're on to the How To portion. Most appliances you can plug in to your wall outlets, will be limited to about 1500 watts. By law some appliances have to be limited like space heaters:
This means you can rest assured a 2000 Watt Inverter will most likely take care of that. The larger inverters (over 180 watts) will need to be connected DIRECTLY to your vehicles battery. Fortunately, there's no tooling involved. I'll get further into that in a bit.
Again, most appliances prefer to run off of a Pure Sine Wave inverter. Anything with a computer chip or electric motor almost always requires a pure sine wave. Things with touchscreens need the pure/true sine to function. I recommend for appliances like space heaters and coffee pots, you utilize the following power inverter:
It's the AIMS 2000 Watt Pure Sine Wave Power Inverter. It will be able to carry most of your smaller appliances as well as your larger appliances. Remember, you've only got 2000 watts of power here, so trying to run your 700 watt microwave and your 1200 watt coffee pot might be a little too much. You never want push an inverter that hard. Turn one off and run the other one.
Here are the steps involved in hooking this inverter up:
  1. Make sure your car is turned on and running. This is important as you don't want to drain your battery.
  2. Open your hood and locate your battery. Remove any coverings from your battery terminals.
  3. Attach the cables to the power inverter first. Make sure you attach Red (+, Positive) to the positive terminal on the inverter and Black (-, Negative) to the negative terminal. This is EXTREMELY important that you get this right or you risk blowing up your inverter and making a scare spark shower.
  4. Utilizing the cables you've purchased (the ones below are compatible) clamp the red cable on the Positive Post (+) of your battery.

  5. Now connect the black cable to the negative post of the battery or to a solid metal portion of your engine block. A small spark may occur. This is normal. Don't freak out.
  6. Put your inverter IN your car. Not under the hood. The 6 feet of cable should be plenty.
  7. Plug in an extension cable into one of the outlets and run it through the bottom corner of your car door.
  8. Shut your car door gently but firmly to make a seal, without cutting the lines. Trust me, I've done this hundreds of times.
  9. Turn on the Inverter and wait for it to start up. Should take a second to perform diagnostics.
  10. Close your hood gently. Don't push it down all the way, just enough for it to latch.
  11. Lock your door and roll up your windows. I'd hate for you to have your car go missing.
And congratulations, you've got power! You can use a multi-strip to plug in to the extension cord to run smaller appliances like cell phone chargers, TV's and laptops. This is great for running your refrigerator every couple hours or so. Only plug in your fridge after opening it. Let it run until it stops, then unplug it until you open it again. That way you don't have to keep it plugged in and you can use more power for other appliances.

Run another extension cord down to your sump pump in your basement. This inverter will run most 1/3rd and 1/2 horse power sump pumps no problem. This should keep your basement from flooding and save you the cost of that damaging event.

As a safety and security precaution, please do go check on your car every now and again. See if it's getting hot, check fuel levels and make sure it's ventilated. You don't want Carbon Monoxide Poisoning.

I know some of you living in major metropolitan areas and in apartment complexes might thing this is impossible and not valid for you. You're wrong. If you live in an apartment; this will work for you just as well, just a little differently. I will cover this in my next article. So stay tuned.


How to Survive a Hurricane Power Outage with your Car

Remember Hurricane Sandy? Remember Hurricane Irene? I'm going to show you how to survive and thrive in these power outages. Those of you in the North East can't seem to remember the total bull you had to go through when you couldn't charge your iProducts. You were willing to stand in line for hours and hours just for a few dribbles of gasoline for your car [translation English to New Yalkanese: Kah (n); A means of conveyance]. But what have you done to prepare? Absolutely nothing for the vast majority of you. Time to get your heads out of your butts and get ready to survive and thrive in a power outage!

Those of you who were smart enough to fill up before the storm hit; there's hope for you when the power drops out. You won't have to worry about not being able to charge your phone, turn on a couple lights or charge your laptop. You can use any car as a generator as long as it meets these requirements:
  1. Has an engine (This is the most important part)
  2. Has a good battery (or an old one that still works)
  3. Has at least a few gallons of gas (without this, you know, your car won't run)
  4. Has a working cigarette lighter port (check your fuses if it doesn't work)
If you want to run anything more than 200 watts of power, the last one doesn't matter, as we will be hooking directly up to the battery.

So lets start with the simple, low wattage solution.

This is the AIMS 180 Watt Pure Sine Wave Inverter. You need this if you intend on using a smart phone, tablet or touch pad laptop. Don't go with a cheap Modified Sine Wave inverter as it's not guaranteed to work. This inverter mimics the type of power you get from the power company, which is a good thing. This little inverter is barely bigger than your iPhone. It comes with a USB cable as well as a 120 Volt Wall-style plug-in. What this will do is allow you to charge your phone, and run one other appliance like a laptop charger or a lamp with a CFL Bulb.

Low Wattage Consumption CFL Bulb

Simple Directions

  • Turn your vehicle all the way on. Meaning starting your car so the engine is running. If you don't do this, then you'll kill your batteries faster than if you had left your headlights on. 
  • Plug this little inverter in to the cigarette lighter adapter, flip the switch and wait for the green light to turn on.
  • The fan on the inverter will be blowing to keep the internal components cool. This is normal.
  • Plug in your phone via USB cable to the USB adapter on the inverter. BAM! Your phone is charging.

  • Plug in whatever 100 watt appliance (Laptop, Lamp, Sub 32 inch Flat Screen TV, Etc) you want to run into the plug in.
  • You can use an extension cable if you don't want to sit in your car the whole time and risk getting Carbon Monoxide Poisoning.
  • DO NOT RUN your car in a closed garage. Open that garage door and park with your exhaust pipe out of the garage. If you don't follow this direction; I won't feel bad if you die from asphyxiation. Darwinism at it's finest.
  • If you try and go over the 180 watts this inverter can handle the inverter will shut down, or you will blow a fuse in your car. Again, not my fault if you screw that up. To be sure, look on the back of your appliance or on the power brick. It should tell you how many watts you're running.
And now you've got your essentials going. You've got light, entertainment and communication. What more can you ask for?

I know, I know. There are a lot more things in your house that you wish you could power. There are those of you who can't live without your coffee. Then there are those of you who want to run your refrigerators, 80 inch plasma TV and thousand watt 7.1 Surround Sound system. Or space heaters if the temperature drops below a comfortable 70ºF (an alternative would to be to wear more clothes). My Next Article will help with these solutions.

Feel free to ask any questions below, I'll get to them as soon as possible.