January 10, 2024
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Most of us have been in a situation where we were faced with living without power at some point in our lives. Perhaps it occurred at your residence as a result of a bad storm and downed lines, camping, or in the field while serving with the military. What most folks haven’t experienced is the loss of household power for an extended period of time. When the power goes out and stays out you suddenly lose the ability to illuminate and heat your house, as well as cook your food conventionally. When the unthinkable happens and the batteries fail on your final line of defense against boredom (laptops, tablets, and smartphones) things get even worse. Thankfully, we live in an age that has experienced revolutionary advances in power options such as ultra-quiet, fuel-efficient generators and compact solar generators. During lengthy electrical outages, these power sources become an even greater asset when combined with force multipliers in the form of the latest generation of rechargeable batteries and power banks.
The first emergency power sources up for discussion are integrated home generators. These are designed to power your entire home or serve as an à la carte power source for key zones or high energy use systems. These systems include cooling and heating components, well pumps, water heaters, and washer/dryers. When considering a home generator one of your first decisions is what type of fuel should it use. In many instances, this is dictated by where you live and fuel availability. Diesel, natural gas, and propane are the primary and most practical fuels for powering the larger class of “whole house” generators. These generators, when installed by a professional, are designed to provide your home with an automatic and immediate supply of power in the event of an electric power grid failure. Keep in mind, each fuel type comes with distinct advantages and disadvantages.
For those of you who reside in a house outfitted with a natural gas hookup from your friendly local utility company, the option of installing a natural gas whole-house backup generator is a great option. These generators run quieter and cleaner than their diesel counterparts. Since this type of generator utilizes your natural gas lines as their fuel source, no large fuel tanks are necessary to keep them humming. The most distinct disadvantage of this type of generator is the possibility of pipeline supply disruption during natural disasters. If you are “off the grid” or don’t have a natural gas utility hookup to your home, diesel is another viable and time-honored consideration. Diesel is safe and not nearly as flammable as other fuel-types. Plus it’s readily available. One of the primary disadvantages of a diesel home backup generator is the requirement of installing and maintaining a large storage tank.
An important consideration related to this subject is the propensity for this type of fuel to degrade over time. Maintaining diesel fuel properly requires diligence and commitment. The generally accepted time frame for diesel fuel contained in a storage tank to remain within its peak operating parameters is 6–12 months under ideal conditions. Additives may prolong this lifespan, but there are many variables involved that can negatively affect this estimate, including climatic conditions and moisture. The final whole-home generator fuel type to consider is propane. These generators are similar in size and appearance to their natural gas cousins and while they do require storage tanks, propane has a much longer shelf life than diesel. If you are in the market for one of these beefier generators, speak with as many local vendors and installers as you can muster and seek a general consensus. In most instances, your geographical location, as well as your home’s individual electrical requirements will be critical in what size generator and fuel type is ideal.
The purchase and installation of a ‘whole-house’ generator can put a smack-down on your bank account. They are expensive. However, their reliability and convenience should make you consider them if you can afford one. The next option is mobile 2,000 to 10,000 watt generators. These are widely available, but vary in price and quality. The most popular models I’ve seen in use throughout Alaska are those manufactured by Honda and Yamaha. These two brands are heavily represented not only in garages and workshops, but also RVs and watercraft. The larger gas powered units tend to be noisy, require a fairly large amount of fuel to run continually as well as proper maintenance and oil changes. The 1,000 to 2,200 watt class generators is extremely portable (able to be hand-carried with minimum strain) and uber quiet.
Another positive attribute of the newer generation of portable generators is increased fuel efficiency compared to older traditional models. One of the advances providing greater fuel efficiency is ‘eco-throttles.’ These throttles slow the generator’s RPMs when electrical output requirements are decreased, then throttle back up when more power is needed. This feature provides for a significant reduction in fuel usage when less power output is required. If you are considering a truly portable generator, and understand their limitations, I would opt for the 2,000–2,200 watt models. My personal portable generator is a Honda EU2000i. It has seen my family through many a ‘Last Frontier’ back-country road trip/camping excursion in style. Its crowning achievement occurred immediately after a 7.1 magnitude earthquake hit Alaska in 2018. This earthquake struck while my wife and I were at work. I arrived at our house to find it in shambles, with leaking pipes in the garage, cracked drywall, shattered concrete, and our large open-concept kitchen’s hardwood floor resembling a broken glass factory. I used the generator with multiple tools and appliances for the remainder of the day and into the late hours on only ¾ of a tank of fuel.
If you don’t have the budget or type of residence that would support a traditional fuel-powered generator, you’re in luck. Modern science has answered the call to provide consumers with modestly priced portable solar power sources that are capable of fully charging personal electronics and rechargeable light sources. My ‘go-to’ backpack-ready solar charger/power storage combo device I’ve utilized in Alaska’s remote coastal regions, northern arctic regions, and back-country since 2008 is the old SOLIO ‘Classic.’ Unfortunately this model is no longer available. Here is what to look for in a small solar system you can take with you:
- Portable and packable (if you plan to be on the move)
- Weather resistant (or better yet, weatherproof).
- Capable of storing a charge adequate for recharging a cell or sat-phone
- Capable of accepting the various adaptors necessary for your devices
- Impact resistant
With the ability to charge devices while stationary or on the move, another key to comfort and safety during a blackout is the ability to store power and maintain adequate lighting. In pursuit of this endeavor, there are a multitude of hand-held and extremely rugged lighting devices that also serve as chargeable power banks. Christopher Howell, founder of Synergy Lights offers some well thought out and robust systems to consider. My history with Chris goes back to 2002 when we served on an off-shore HIDTA (High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area) Team operating in the Greater Antilles region of the Caribbean. After being injured in the line of duty Chris changed careers and founded Synergy Lights. They manufacture the best dual-purpose energy bank/illumination devices I have tested in the harsh and unforgiving Alaskan weather.
The first of these is the Synergy 120 series. This is available in three sizes, all of which are packable. They are capable of multiple brightness settings and are waterproof to a depth of six feet. The 120-6 model is the smallest and is capable of lighting a room/tent sized area for eight hours on one charge. It is also red-light capable and can emit an SOS strobe-like pattern for 31 hours. Every model is also a power bank capable of recharging a smartphone up to three times. I purchased two Synergy lights in 2017 and they are bullet-proof. My 120-11 remained in my work backpack for nearly a year and was still fully capable of charging a sat phone when I found myself in a bad spot. My wife’s light is stored in a vehicle where the temperature for 5 months out of the year dips to 0 to -25 F below. It performs with similar verve, even after months of icy punishment.
Synergy Light’s X5 Camping Light possesses the same degree of reliability and innovation as the 120 Series with an added feature. In addition to the bright white light settings and power-bank functions, it sports a directional flashlight and a red and blue strobe. If you need a 120 volt AC/12 volt DC power-bank capable of powering a laptop, power tools, or jump-starting your pickup truck, the Synergy Light AC/DC Power Generator is something to consider. It only weighs 3.4 pounds and is three inches shorter than Subway’s trademark sandwich! The subject of staying warm and comfy during a power outage can result in a “War and Peace” sized discussion regarding square feet, airflow, and BTU’s (British Thermal Units). I’ll skip the scientific mumbo-jumbo and power through this topic without getting tedious. Everything I ever needed to know about interior heating, I learned in Alaska. If you need to heat an area ranging in size from a large camping tent or boat cabin to a decent sized room in a residence, Mr. Heater’s Buddy heaters and the slightly larger Vent-Free Radiant models work well. Mr. Heater units run on propane (1 lb. camping size to 15 lb. or larger tanks) and are nearly silent. Here in the cold northern hinterlands, I’ve used these heaters to warm up sub-zero work-sheds and even keep our aluminum-hulled boats (floating above 35-degree water) cozy and hospitable.
The multi-fuel heat source I keep in escrow should we experience an emergency and a shortage of conventional fuel at our residence, however, is a Hunter Manufacturing Space Heater, Arctic military space heater. It is designed for permanent/semi-permanent structures and does not require electricity. Its most desirable feature is the ability to devour wood, coal, diesel fuel, kerosene, Jet-A, JP-5 and JP-8 (jet fuel). If you are considering a permanent heat source in your home, high-efficiency wood stoves are something to consider. Several decades back I resided at tree-line elevation in Washington’s Cascade Mountains. It was not uncommon to receive a foot of snow in an hour and a lashing of hurricane force winds in the dead of winter. Thanks to a high-output wood stove, however, we were able to heat our two-story, 2,600 square-foot home to the point it was uncomfortable, even when the chimney was dampered down. If you already have an existing fireplace but desire better heating capabilities than it can provide, there are a significant number of commercially available ‘inserts’ that act as a sort of ‘hybrid’ wood stove. These fireplace inserts function like a wood stove, providing a greater degree of fuel-consumption control and heat radiance. Now that you have the basics, your local vendors and installers can help in determining the style of stove that’s best for you and your budget.
When it comes to simple illumination don’t ignore the basics, candles and lanterns. From survival candles that provide a cheery source of light in a lonely tent or snow-cave to oil lanterns that can burn through the night, there are a variety of inexpensive options to choose from. There’s a vast amount of additional information on the subject of alleviating woes when the lights go out. Just use common sense. Conduct your own research and speak with local professionals. Armed with your research, work within the limits of your household budget and in concert with the type of residence in which you expect to weather a power grid failure. When you have spare time train with your equipment and test it periodically. Finally, I leave you with this thought. Since mankind walked the earth, darkness and shadows were synonymous with fear … but fear is a debt you cannot afford. Don’t forget, there are good, capable people out there in the same situation as you. More good than bad, notwithstanding what some in the media or popular culture would lead you to believe. Train, be prepared mentally and physically, and keep the faith. I’ve been a big-city cop, and a Federal Agent for 26 years. Even with the ugliness I’ve witnessed over the years, I am here to tell you unabashedly that we live in a great country full of unbelievably kind and brave people. So remember … when evening’s shadows lengthen and darkness rules the land, know that dawn is coming, and you are not alone.
This article was originally published in Be Ready! magazine. You can find an original copy at OSGnewsstand.com. If you have any thoughts or comments on this article, we’d love to hear them. Email us at FirearmsNews@Outdoorsg.com.