I will use my own experience as a general guide so you can do your own version. After having struggled with all kinds of equipment my entire life, ranging from farming machinery, light industry power tools with a diverse degree of complexity, my best advice is:
Don’t. Lose. The. Operation. Manual.
It doesn’t matter if it is written in Chinglish. It could have important numbers, or perhaps even calculations, equations, wiring diagrams (extremely important) and using them may prevent a failure with potentially harmful consequences.
I am confident that most readers are moderately educated and careful people. However, I have acquired some useful habits like dedicating a special file just for user manuals and handbooks, something that I am sure many of you already have, as a prepper.
By reading seemingly small amounts of evident information, I learned that a simple venting fan for my bathroom could set itself on fire if a piece was wired incorrectly, for instance. So manuals are important for every kind of device, no matter how simple it may appear.
Each manufacturer is forced by law to inform the weaknesses of their products, and this is important. You don’t need an engineering degree; most of the time it is very simple to know if some equipment is going to be damaged or generate a potentially harmful situation.
That said, once I had most of my equipment to be used after a potential event, I prepared some coffee, and planted myself at the dining room table with all the manuals of the equipment that used electricity.
Grab a notebook – getting prepared ahead of time
In a notebook, I wrote all the standard and maximum loads for every machine. The manual usually shows this inside parenthesis or similar signs: ( ) We all know that all of our equipment is not going to work at max load at the same time, of course, but this is going to be needed. Perhaps we are working with, say, our bench drill in the workshop, with our fan on, and the refrigerator kicks in, while we are in the middle of the summer and the baby is peacefully sleeping in a room with A/C…and there is an overload that makes a mess of our day. See my point?
Ok, now that we have written all of the standard electricity consumption in a column in our notebook, we have to make sure that the measurements are all in the proper units. Perhaps this is extremely evident for some, but not so evident for many, and this article is intended for them.
A/C (main bedroom unit): 1650 WATTS
Fridge 1: 350 WATTS
Fridge 2: 300 WATTS
TV: 120 WATTS (including an old surround and DVD)
Fans: 60 WATTS.
Total 2430 WATTS.
A Watt is not the same thing a KiloWatt…
This can be confusing, and I know it. So let’s make sure that everything is listed in the same units, and that we can sum the values without any mistake. Once we have made this simple addition, we have our total consumption.
Of course, most of the time, our need for a battery rack is going to be large. Most of us have plenty of equipment, but we are not going to use it all at the same time. So the next step is, decide what equipment is going to be used most of the time. Use a highlighter. This is going to be your standard load.
Which devices should we include?
A/C, lights, fridge, fans, dehumidifiers, TV and game consoles, laptops and router, for example, are among my main devices.
I made a mistake (and a costly one), and I will tell you exactly what this is before continuing.
I got a 2500 WATT genset, believing that, given that we are (or were) an oil producing country with an abundance of byproducts that derivate of the industry, gasoline was going to be available, or even bottled gas. Neither of these products are available, and I tell you this with all the responsibilities that could arise. The mafia thugs that kidnapped my country, have decided on gasoline rationing (you can’t buy gasoline unless you are “registered” in their freaking control database and systems), and it is almost impossible to buy a gas bottle at the regulated, stupidly low price, because there is a huge mafia getting rich (illegally) behind the trafficking of the gas bottle production.
There are no private companies that bottle gas here any longer…
The entire production chain was seized by the thugs. The main reason was running the genset to keep the aircons working, but it is not so big and it would allow just running one of them, in our main bedroom, just one day on a full tank.
It is noisy as heck, and the stock exhaust fumes are going to be a problem, as it is a portable unit, supposed to be installed far from the camp or RV or whatever, and we don’t have a proper place at home. Rigging a proper control panel to switch off the grid and use the genset is not that easy, nor cheap, even with my lovely dad doing the job (believe it or not he was going to charge me for the labor, can you believe it?? Trust me, once the SHTF arrives don’t trust in anyone LOL…JK, my dad is awesome and I love him to death).
Our A/C systems use 220v, and they need a separate connection to the street wiring, rather than the 110v wiring that is used for home appliances. Yeah, I know, I understand that face of yours. The stupid thing works just in 110v, or 220v, but not in both modes and that is perfectly understandable. It is not an advanced model, it is quite simple. A possible solution was to install a 110v A/C unit, but it would have to be a smaller unit, and the efficiency would be much less, meaning that lots of insulation and work (and I mean expensive technical labor) should be necessary to be able to use the genset as a backup for grid power, in a safe manner.
In some cases, a genset might not be the way to go
Because of this, I won’t recommend ANYONE get a genset unless they can produce their own fuel, and perhaps some long term treatment for their engines so they can improve their reliability and duration a lot (and I do can go as technical over this as much as you like, because I know the topic, having worked with that previously). Something that is perfectly possible, the fuel producing, and perhaps I will cover it in some article in the future, but I would prefer to write about things that I have practical experience with, instead.
If I could make a purchase again, I would have bought a couple of batteries, and a PV panel, as big and powerful as I could afford, with all the needed accessories. Back in the day when I bought some appliances, I preferred to buy two small fridges, instead of a large, heavy, fancy fridge for our kitchen. One was installed in our pantry, where it would be seldom used, just in case we needed the space, and the other one in our kitchen of course.
This setup was enough, under normal circumstances, to keep staples, fruits and vegetables fresh after our weekly shopping for the four of us. Usually people here use a jug of cold water from the fridge; but as I have been informed about very cold water being harmful for the stomach, and blood pressure, we decided to keep a jug in our bedroom where it is cooler because the A/C runs all day long. It saves space, and for having a sip of water we did not need to leave our bedroom and go to the kitchen. My wife was not exactly comfortable having a jug of water in our walk-in closet, but after some time she could appreciate the advantage of this. It is not as cold, but is not at 33-34 C like our regular day is in Venezuela. Not being so cold means you can drink more without feeling falsely hydrated.
Back on topic. One of the things I have to mention, is that some high consumption devices such as blenders, electric heaters, showers, among others, are going to place a huge increase in your power needs. Some of these appliances can be found in 12v and draw a lot less power, indeed, but these investment choices are going to require a good amount of research. Investing wisely has saved us a lot of money in the long run for our family.
After you assess your technical power needs
Going back on topic:
Once your needs have been assessed with a proper estimation (you may want go 20% over for some comfort), and depending on what kind of batteries you choose, nickel-iron, lead/acid, or some other, the calculations are going to be different. There are plenty of websites that go much deeper on technical stuff, but having covered some of the basics ideas here should be enough for a previous visualization on what needs to be done. It is not difficult, nor complicated if we take some time to understand how electricity and power works.
Perhaps you’re not going to get a degree in electrical engineering, but the understanding of the basics will help you to solve the 60% or 70% of common failures in a simple system. I am lucky enough because of some specialized training in failure assessment in my former position at work; therefore I have been able to detect (with the proper documentation at hand of course!) problems with my (now) busted SUV and correct them in some more or less complex systems…when there was money and spare parts were available.
But I would like to write about how important mobility is, and how screwed we would be without it.
Thanks for your comments, for letting us know you are there for us, and very especially for your much-needed assistance, fellows.
God bless us all!.
Jose is an upper middle class professional. He is a former worker of the oil state company with a Bachelor’s degree from one of the best national Universities. He has a small 4 members family, plus two cats and a dog. An old but in good shape SUV, a good 150 square meters house in a nice neighborhood, in a small but (formerly) prosperous city with two middle size malls. Jose is a prepper and shares his eyewitness accounts and survival stories from the collapse of his beloved Venezuela. Thanks to your help Jose has gotten his family out of Venezuela. They are currently setting up a new life in another country. paypal.me/JoseM151
The biggest need is to reduce ones needs. I have a propane fridge and gas stove. I have no AC. I have no dishwasher. I use a dragon heater for heating downstairs right now. If I could change my house design, then I would added a wood cookstove. Why? Because it heats the house and cooks food. Not to mention putting your produce overhead to dehydrate food. Then I would only use the gas stove during the summer months or hot days. Texas goes from being cold to warm throughout winter on a day by day basis. Yesterday the high was 34 F and today its 58 F. I would advise keeping two years of wood at a time as a minimum. One reason if someone gets sick or injured you have a back up of wood. Plus if you are in an area where there is no wood, like I am, then if finances are tight you still have wood. I use LED lights which uses very little draw. But the biggest savings on electricity is we turn off everything, meaning zero power, to the house every night. One of the nicest thing about where I live is that I am off grid. I don’t hear about power outages unless I go into town. We are our own power plant.
thanks for the great article. I’ve taken some notes on actions to take for ourselves.
It’s great to learn that my time and effort invested has been useful. This encourages me to keep writing more and more.
Please feel free to ask if you need something explained with more detail and I will do my best.
Get a lithium-ion genny with solar panels to fuel it. The Bluetti AC50 is good.
And they are silent.