How To Power Appliances After A Disaster

Welcome to this week’s Urban Survival Newsletter, sponsored by the Urban Survival Guide and

Since we’re coming up on blizzard season, I wanted to share some tools that we have on hand for short, medium, and long term power outages.  I’ll be the first one to admit that our system would never be considered perfect.  That being said, it IS in place and a good plan that is in place and proven will always beat the snot out of a perfect plan that’s never executed.  We are actually able to get use out of it on a regular basis, whether we ever HAVE to use it or not.

We have built up our system over time and will probably keep doing so until we are able to be at least ½ way off the grid without advertising the fact to our neighbors.  Solar panels are great and wind generators are even better, but they have pretty unique visual and audible signatures that advertise to the world that you’re not someone who simply follows the herd.

I’ll be writing about stealth solar and wind power techniques in the future…basically how to enjoy the benefits of solar and wind power without advertising the fact that you’re using it.

But today, we’re going to go over modular solutions that work alone and together to help you both now and in the event of a breakdown of the electrical grid.  I’m going to focus on off-the-shelf solutions that you can either go out and buy today or click a couple of buttons and have on your doorstep within the next few days.  Again…my stress is ALWAYS on good, solid action right now rather than a perfect plan that never gets implemented.  I’ll put links to where you can buy several of the products online at the end of the article.

Here are some of the main factors that I look at when I’m buying electrical backup items:

Practical:  It’s important to accept the fact that a solution for “survival” isn’t necessarily going to allow you to do everything that you currently do.  As an example, while you can probably have your AC, refrigerator, washer, and dryer all kick on simultaneously today; You probably won’t want to spend the money necessary to buy all of the equipment necessary to be able to do that in a survival situation.  If you’re interested in going completely off of the grid, that’s one thing, but for emergency preparedness, it’s unnecessary.

Cost:  I don’t only look at the purchase price, but the cost per use and life expectancy.  As an example, Generac generators are a great buy, but the break on the starter (pull handle) is made of plastic.  I’ve read of several cases and verified the reports with store managers that it’s very common for the starter to break after 5-10 uses.  This makes them VERY expensive on a per-use basis.

Usability & portability:  I’d love to have a 10,000 watt generator and a huge supply of gasoline to run it, but I would never have a need for it unless there was a disaster.  With a handheld 2,000 watt generator, I can throw it in the car and use it for family and church events.  Same with solar panels.  Fixed solar panels are great, but they take up a lot of space and don’t store very well.  I’ve had a lot more opportunity to use foldable solar panels than I have had to use fixed panels.  There are three big benefits to this:

  1. You’ll get more bang for your buck if you actually USE the stuff you buy.
  2. You’ll be familiar with your equipment if you actually use it.
  3. You’ll have earned peace of mind and confidence in your equipment if you actually use it.

Durability:  Many fixed solar panels lose 70-90% of their output if they take ANY damage.  The circuitry on Cobra inverters looks like a basket full of snakes.  And see my comment above on plastic brakes on generator starters.

Output:  We oversize everything so that we have excess capacity to use and so that we’re fine if we have to go silent or don’t have sun for a few days.

Operational Security:  I like small, quiet, unobtrusive tools.  I want to be able to store stuff without it standing out and I want to be able to use it without painting a bulls-eye on our family.


One of the easiest and cheapest things that you can get that will buy you some time and flexibility if the electricity goes off is a 12 volt inverter.  For less than $50, you can get a 300 watt inverter that you can hook up to your car and run your refrigerator in the summer and the blower on your furnace in the winter.

This is NOT very efficient, and it’s not a 24/7 solution, but it will buy you some time for short emergencies…if your car is close to your house.  Along with the inverter, I’d suggest getting as big of an extension cord (small guage number) as you can find and afford.  This is especially important if you’re crossing a large distance or have a large load.

Here’s why this is such a good solution.  First, you can use the inverter in your car right now while you’re driving to power or charge up anything that uses a wall outlet.  We’ve used ours to recharge our son’s portable DVD player, my laptop, and our phones.

Second, an inverter will allow you to convert 12 volt battery power into regular household current that you can use to run appliances.


Batteries are a HUGE topic.  I go into this in the course, but here are a couple of options, what we’ve decided to go with, and why.

For everyday use, we have a few battery backup devices, or uninterruptable power supplies (UPS) with voltage regulation.  We have dirty power where we live, so we have to use them for our stereo, computers, etc.  When we bought them, we bought large capacity ones, like the CyberPower 810 watt unit.  This unit has 2 9AH batteries in it. (AH=amp hour.  This means that it will put out 9 amps of power per battery for one hour or .9 amps for 10 hours.)  This is enough to run a desktop & monitor for about an hour.  The downside on these is that they have a 3-6 year battery life…but once they die, you can break them apart and replace the battery with a 10 year lithium battery and still have the built in inverter, voltage regulator, and charging controller.

These are marketed in several ways, such as “battery generators,” “emergency power generators,” and even bundled as “solar backups.”  Duracell makes one that has a 600 watt output and 28 AH capacity which I can recommend and another one that has a 1800 watt output and 60 AH capacity that I can’t recommend.

The 1800 watt unit is appealing because of the capacity, but has reliability issues.  Duracell used to carry them, but they’re hard to find now…presumably because of the quality issues.  You can buy private label versions on Amazon under the name “Xantrex” or from other preparedness vendors online.  These seem to either work great or not at all, depending on your luck of the draw.  I will not be buying any of these 1800 watt units until I find a manufacturer that can deliver more consistent circuitry.

***Update 19-Nov-2010 @ 1129:  I’ve received SEVERAL emails and some comments asking about Solutions From Science’s 1800 watt solar backup system.

I tried to allude to the Solutions From Science solar generators in the article without mentioning them directly.  I don’t know Bill (the owner) directly, but I DO like what I know about him and I really appreciate what he’s done to help educate people about preparedness and get them prepared.  I’ve even advertised with them before, but they decided that I’m a direct competitor and will no longer let me advertise with them, although I would welcome the opportunity to again.

I see us as teamates in a common cause to help people get prepared, so I didn’t want to say anything unflattering.

As to their BBB rating…anytime you get as many customers as SFS gets, you’re going to get complaints.  Most businesses don’t feel like it’s worth it to placate the BBB and feel like they extort money from businesses and let complaints stand and simply contact the customer directly to get things resolved.  Some of their physical products are more expensive than if you buy them from other vendors, but I can’t fault them for having the skill to sell products at a profit…after all, that profit gets put back into marketing which allows them to help even more people get prepared.

A year and a half ago, when I first started offering the course, I showed people how to make a system for a few hundred bucks like what Solutions From Science sells for $1700.  The 90 watt panel costs $200-$300 (retail) and the battery pack & inverter costs $400-$500.  The panel is severely undersized for actual use and simply will not provide enough charging power to run appliances.  I’ll link to them below if you want to see exactly what I’m talking about. ***

There are a couple of other portable lithium battery/inverter units that I’m going to be buying and testing very soon and I’ll let you know how they pan out.

Deep Cycle Batteries

The workhorse of our system is a set of 4 6 volt deep cycle “house batteries” that are made for RVs and golf carts.  Our batteries are each 200 AH for a total of 800 AH of power.  We set two of them up parallel to each other and the two sets of parallel batteries get set up in series so that we have an output of 12v and can use a simple 12v inverter to power household appliances.

As an example, our refrigerator is Energy Star compliant and is rated for 1000 kwh per year or 25 AH/day.  That means that under ideal circumstances, we could run our refrigerator for 16 days without recharging our batteries, but it would completely fry them.  In reality, we’d only want to discharge them 20-30%, which means that we have slightly more than a day of capacity.

Our gas furnace blower would run about a day and a half without stopping, or 9 days running 10 minutes out of every hour.  It would be odd that we’d need both the refrigerator and the furnace.

If you go this route, make sure to get true deep cycle batteries and not marine batteries or hybrid batteries.  AND, in general, the heavier and more expensive the deep cycle battery, the better.  Some good brands to watch for are Rolls, Trojan, Crown, & Dekka.

Rolls is the “gold standard” and will take several hundred discharge cycles and last from 7-15 years.  Trojan batteries are very solid and will last from 300-750 cycles.  If you find a cheaper deep cycle battery, make sure that it is rated for an equivalent number of charging cycles.


As I mentioned earlier, we have a 2000 watt generator.  As far as generators go, this is small…and I’m fine with that.  Specifically, we have the Yamaha EF2000is and I’ll link to it at the end of the article.  It’s NOT the cheapest generator out there, but there are a few reasons why I bought it.

First, I prefer 4 stroke engines to 2 stroke engines.  The Yamaha has a 4 stroke engine.

Second, was durability.  The Yamaha has a steel break on the starter rather than a plastic one like what the Generac has.  The Generac costs 40% less, but breaks often and retailers told me that they get returned broken A LOT.

Third was sound level.  The Yamaha is advertised as operating at 51.5 dBA in “eco” mode.  Mine is quiet, but I have no idea how they got that measurement.  When I measured mine, the ambient noise level was hovering around 40 dBA.  I took readings all the way around the generator approximately 18-24 inches away and got readings of 81 dBA in front of the exhaust pipe and 75 dBA on the other 3 sides.  In eco mode, I got peak readings of 71 dBA.

What’s this mean?  When I set it up in our garage and shut the door, I couldn’t hear the generator when I got 50 feet away from the door.  Of course, it’s very dangerous to run an internal combustion engine in a closed garage, so don’t do so without adequate ventilation.

Interestingly enough, even though the eco mode was quieter, I could hear it from further away because the pitch of the engine in eco mode was more distinctive.  This simply illustrates that dBA levels on generators, like firearms silencers, only tell part of the story.

There are ways around this by adding on an additional muffler, building an underground vented (forced air) enclosure, a vented (forced air) sound insulated generator box, or putting the generator in the middle of “stuff” in your garage to absorb and break up the sound waves.  All of these will be helped by running the generator on wood or stiff rubber mats rather than directly on concrete.

In any case, if we need to run our generator when the electricity is out, we’ll be using it during the loudest times of day to charge batteries and running as much as possible off of batteries and only batteries at night.

If you run the unit at ¼ the rated load (400 watts,) it burns through 1.1 gallons every 10 hours, giving you 30 AH of power.  Since our refrigerator only uses 25 AH per day, we don’t have to run it very much (charging batteries) to run our refrigerator all day.

The fourth reason why we bought the Yamaha was because it has a built in 12v output for charging 12v devices.

The fifth reason was because the Yamaha has circuitry to regulate output to protect electronic devices.

Sixth, you can connect 2 of these units together and they act as one unit with twice the power.

And finally, it’s 40 pounds and has a handle.  I can “hide” it in our garage or throw it in the car.  It’s big enough to do what we need without screaming “I’m a prepper” to anyone who happens to see it.

Of course, you can add hand/pedal crank generators and solar panels to the mix, but you need to be aware of what they can and can’t do.  You can’t realistically power appliances off of them.  Most solar panels will only put out a couple of amps.  A hand generator will put out 2.5-3 amps, and a pedal generator will put out 10-20 amps.  There are a limited number of peak solar hours per day and cranking or pedaling on a generator for several hours every day is not practical for most people/families/groups unless you’re in a long term off grid scenario.

The other issue with solar and wind power, that I referred to earlier, is staying invisible.  Both solar and wind generators, if they’re big enough to power household appliances, will create a big visual/audible footprint.

What’s the best solution?  It’s a complicated question that doesn’t have a simple answer…especially if you’re trying to figure out something that you can use to help your family if disaster strikes before you are living in your ideal retreat location.

Pragmatically, a gas generator is simply a stop-gap measure that you can use for short term emergencies or until you run out of gas.  As people in New Orleans found out, they’re worth their weight in gold in the meantime.

Once the gas runs out, you’ll want to have your daily energy consumption so that it’s approximately half of what you generate on a daily basis.  For most people, that means that you stop using refrigerators, furnaces, and other major appliances that rely on electricity.

So, what can you do today so that you’ll be more prepared if something happens in the next few months?

Obviously, one of the best things you can do is go through the Urban Survival Course.  You can get more information by going to

But for electricity, I think that the approach that we took is a great balance for people who can’t afford the time or money to go completely off of the grid immediately.  It’s also great for people who need to get more fundamental preparedness items taken care of, like food, heat, water, security, and medical.

In summary, here’s the order that we took:

  1. Inverter
  2. UPS supplies for computers/electronics
  3. Small solar chargers—I have almost everyone that has been made to clip on to a backpack and I don’t love any of them.  It seems to be impossible to create a small solar charger with high output.  Save your money on the small, less expensive ones and buy one that works.  Here is the bare minimum:
  4. Deep cell batteries—BUY LOCALLY, unless you can find free shipping.  Good brands to watch for are Rolls, Trojan, Crown, & Dekka.  Don’t buy used.
  5. High quality 3 phase battery charger with desulphate mode
  6. Portable generator
  7. Pedal crank generators and larger portable solar panels
    Pedal a watt:
    Sunforce 25 watt panel:
    Brunton 26 watt panel, that can be paired with other panels.  I’ve tried most sizes of the Brunton panels and am a big fan:

Kill A Watt.  Simply put, I LOVE these and think that everyone should have one.  You plug it into the wall, plug your appliance into the kill-a-watt, and you get voltage, wattage, amperage, and other information INSTANTLY!  This is the best way to know exactly how much power your appliances use.  The manufacturers’ ratings MAY be correct on the showroom floor, but most appliances get less efficient with age, actual use, wear, & tear.

Solutions From Science “Solar Backup”

You’ll note that all of these links are to  I’m referring you to them because they offer free shipping if you’re in Amazon Prime and because of their generous return policy.  They’ve been great to me through the years and I know they’ll be great to you.  If you ever happen to get a lemon, they’ll make it right.  In addition to having low prices and free shipping, items purchased through the links above that say tag=surviveinplac-20 generate a small commission that helps to support this free newsletter.

As you can see, this isn’t a cheap endeavor, which is why we have always chosen to buy power items that we can use on a regular basis rather than ones that will only have value after a disaster.  We also don’t have a big house or a ton of storage, so size was also a major consideration.  Finally, we’ve bought these items over the course of the last 5 years.  Don’t feel like you have to eat this elephant in one sitting.

A discussion on power wouldn’t be complete without at least mentioning EMPs.  All of this equipment should be shielded.  To read more about this, do a search in the search box in the upper right hand corner for “Faraday” or “EMP.”

What have you done to prepare for long term power outages?  Have you taken the course of cutting your electrical usage as much as possible?  Have you sized your backup power to meet your current needs?  Or have you done something in between?  Many of you have written in with questions about how to run medical equipment after a disaster.  I’d appreciate it if you’d share any solutions you’ve found or questions you have by commenting below.

Also, if you have any wisdom on why my sound level readings are so different from what Yamaha reports, I’d love to hear your input.

God Bless & Stay Safe,

David Morris

P.S.  Have a safe and happy Thanksgiving!  Keep an eye out for my newsletter next Friday.  I’ve got some great preparedness gift ideas for you and your family 😉.

About David Morris

David Morris is the creator of the Survive In Place Urban Survival Course, the Fastest Way To Prepare Course, Urban Survival Playing Cards, Tactical Firearms Training Secrets, and other books, courses, and articles on preparedness, survival, firearms, and other tactical topics. He lives with his wife, 2 boys, and 2 dogs.


  1. Yes, there are hydrogen fuel cell systems available, but mostly used by factories in big cities due to the long term savings with the byproducts of hot water and electricity, And for large businesses the initial high cost would not be prohibitive…but for individual or small survival communities, there are better and more reliable ways. For the cost of a hydrogen cell system, one can have redundancy and back up of standard battery/solar/wind off grid application. Until they come up with a scaled down cost effective H-fuel cell, it’s not the best way to go.

    For those interested in joining a serious integrated worse case scenario survival community ‘go-to’ location in the midwest, instead of striking out on your own, the company I work for has an ideal location already in progress. The first 40 acre location is already purchased One hour North of xxxx, xxxxx.
    It was carefully selected for its security seclusion, yet optimum resource benefits like pure artesian wells, best growing soils, and some other long term teotwawki bennies that not many think of for a good location. We did a lot of study over the years and based on what guys like Dave pooint out, we think we hit the best methodology. These sites can also be used as weekend get away camping retreats in the meantime. You would immediately just transfer your ‘survive in place’ knowledge to your own private secure site location. The goal is to get a completely integrated self sustaining compound going for all its collective inhabitants that would endure just about anything they can throw at us. We have six of us already involved in this project have serious ‘security’ and survivalist credentials from the military and related professions and i myself was in the construction business and have built several ‘shelters’ for clients. You’d all be surprised at how many people have underground survival bunkers attached to their new homes out there.! For more details, email me. This community will probably max out at 40 or fifty particpants. We have a state-of-the-art plan. Serious inquiries only please.

    I also have somewhere a resource for building your own solar panels which would reduce the cost considerably. I’ll try to find it for everyone.

    • You’ll note that I edited out the city and state. If Pete contacts me and REALLY wants it posted, I’ll put it back in.

      I don’t know Pete or his group, but having both a plan to survive right where you are (Survive In Place) and a retreat community where you have a possibility of retreating to that will be populated with like-minded preppers is ideal. You’ve got to make sure the “community” is a good fit. You’ve got to decide whether you want a tightly knit “survival” community or if you want a loosely knit community where there is a common belief in self reliance, but not necessarily a duty to prepare at the rate and way that others want you to.

      Most survivalists & preppers are rugged individualists. Most people who create the infrastructure that make a survival community possible are control freaks. I don’t say that in a bad way because I am both and can identify with both 🙂 I’m just saying it because if you’re looking at survival communities, just make sure that you’re comfortable with any covenants and restrictions in your title before you buy.

      Pete, if you are comfortable talking about how y’all have addressed this and what personality type you’re looking for, you’re welcome to.

      • Bob Giese says:

        I have purchased a set of plans from an online source that came to me as a .pdf file. I’ve read the plans from front to back but have not built the solar panels. The plans are very understandable and user-friendly, even to someone like me that has no electrical experience. However, I have not built a panel yet. The plans say one can be built for very little money, around $200.00 each. They also say the first panel can easily be built in a weekend, and they become faster and easier to assemble after the learning curve is behind you. They can be built in series or parallel. Not to go on with the advertising (I don’t know them and have no connection to them), so go to their website: if you are interested. They site advises that you could also potentially build a cottage income out of this.

        Change subject: When you want to power down all your electrical devices to save money, most of us just hit the OFF switch on the device. However, that leaves a “phantom” electrical charge running through the device to keep it warm so that the “instant-on” feature will work. Better to buy power strips or auxiliary power boxes that appliances/devices are plugged into that can be shut off with a switch. This will completely eliminate the “phantom” current into the device.

        ‘Nother subject: Since China sends us all their stuff in shipping containers they all come in full. Once emptied, the containers are not sent back empty. They’re not sent back at all. It is cheaper for them to manufacture a new container than ship the used one back. Therefore, there is a huge surplus of those containers in the Americas (north and central.) Go to Google/Bing/Yahoo/whatever and search for Used Shipping Containers. You will find websites galore where they can be purchased for between $1,000 – $2,000. Shipping is extra, but if you have a trucker buddy coming home empty, there ya go. You can also find websites that sell plans to convert these containers into homes/offiices/apartments/bomb shelters/wine cellars/etc. Use your imagination and build your getaway shelter for a lot fewer dollars than you can build conventional. Good luck.


        • Hey Bob,

          A couple of comments on your post–

          1. Anyone who has the ability to put together solar panels over a weekend PROBABLY has enough skill to work that same amount of time and earn enough money to buy commercially made panels. If you get a lot of enjoyment out of DIY projects, then this doesn’t apply. If you DO intend on making several sets and selling them, it doesn’t apply. But when you are making the decision to DIY or buy from a store, you simply MUST take the value of your time into account.

          2. On shipping containers, they’re great above ground, but they’re made to be stacked…not to have a load of dirt/moisture evenly distributed on top of them. For the most part (time, money, need for outside help), you’re better digging out your “pit” and pouring concrete, using CMU bricks, or using spraycrete.

  2. Installed a 120 v. 7 cu ft freezer in my pickup truck, purchased at Sam’s for $192, then got a 750 watt inverter at auto parts store, an inline fuse. Soldered and shrink-wrapped all connections and wired to one of 2 truck batteries. Has been operating on the road on 12 v or when parked on 120 v for nearly 2 years with no problems. Freezer holds game meat from hunting and fish caught in my travels. Cost is much less than a dual voltage freezer or refrigerator. Also, had to remove hinges because topper was too close for freezer lid to open. Just slide lid to open and keep closed with bungee cord or rachet strap. Hope this helps someone

    • Your solution , however, only provides partial information. If one were to power a refrigerator, the car should be running and the size of the inverter must be large enough to generate the necessary amps to run the frig. Yes, small electrical items can be powered with an inexpensive inverter, however, to safely power large appliances you may need at least a 1.5 KW inverter. You may have considerable trouble finding one in the local hardware store. Also, the operator needs experience when dealing with large devices.

      Please respond with your comments. Respectfully, Greg

  3. Great info, thx David.
    Re: the sound level readings, there are a LOT of variables. I used to work in R&D, and one of the things I did was in-shop UL testing. In order to compare sound measurements, meter type, ambient noise level, distance all have to be the same. The meters both have to be calibrated correctly. Measurement standards also have to be the same. From your mention of distance being 18-24″ – that’s already enough to throw readings off.

  4. i have read the lessons you sent out and am reading “Survive In Place” now. I want to thank you for the very helpful information you have made available to us. I have been interested in preparedness for most of my life. This came from a grandmother who could feed a battlion of soldiers at a moments notice with all the canned goods from her garden. Y2K brought other situations to mind so my preparedness horizons expanded a lot. I have become interested in solar and wind power. Although I don’t know nearly enough about it yet. The discussion of the panels from Harbour Freight was very helpful. We have been looking at those for a few months just could not really determine how to use them in our situation. We live in the outskirts of town, not rural but quiet. Little or no possibility that we can leave if an emergency happened,. A wind unit would be like painting a target on our property. We ruled that out, but portable solar panels would be all right. We have an abundance of sun and a good fence so no problem keeping batteries charged. Our main question was about the wattage. We plan to but a smaller more efficient refrigerator which will help in the size of the inverter or the number of batteries we would need for that. The discussions in this articloe and the comments have given much food for thought and clarification of articles I have read and did not understand fully. I am working behind the curve because of my lack of technical expertise, but the curve is getting smaller every day and your book and articles help immensely. Thanks to all who have made their experiences available to those of us who are learning. I am encouraged o know that I am not alone with family that think we are crazy and in addition hoarders. We finally have worked out the hoarders part of it. That has gone away but they stlll do not have a clue why preparedness is important. Perhaps time will help. The bad thing is that they live with the threat of hurricanes. Preparation for them is running to the store at the last minute hoping something will be left. I would like to give then a copy of your book David, but I know it would not be read,

    • You raised the question of sizing a solar system: The peak wattage from the solar pannels multiplied by 5 if you do not have the pannels mounted in a tracking mount or 6 if so mounted will give the expected number of watt-hours of power that can be expected to be generated per day. 1000 watt-hours is 1 kilowatt-hour. Expected power output assumes sunny, unshaded, cloudless location and is a rough average over the course of a year. So the 3 pannel 45 watt set from Harbor Freight will produce about 1/4 KW-h per day. This would run a 100 watt light bulb for about 2 1/2 hours per day. Look at your electric bill and see how much power that you use per month (The US average is 500 KW-h per month.) and divide by 30 to see your current daily use. This will give you an idea of how much you will need to cut back if you go solar.

    • Bob Giese says:


      Yes, we do live dreading hurricanes and some of us are prepared. But I think it is impossible for anyone to have 100-% of necessities when a hurricane hits. When Ivan struck the Gulf Coast, we went to bed that night expecting it to hit west of here. But just before landfall it made a course change and hit the Fl/Al state line head on. That made me and my family a direct hit. Was I ready? Not 100%, but I did have 98% of the necessities on my own hurricane preparedness list, which I passed out to everyone I knew. All I really needed afterward was a steady supply of gasoline for my generator (and some air conditioning would have been nice.)

      But for the most part, I think you are correct about people not reading the book. It brings to mind the 9-1-1 call received during the middle of the storm when a woman called in saying there was water up to the top of her windows and would someone please come rescue her. She ignored the mandatory evacuation order. Of course there was no one that could have rescued her at that point. They found her body the next day. And no amount of convincing was going to make her leave her beautiful home off Gulf Beach highway while there was still time.

      Those who do hit the stores when the path is projected to hit are the ones who (usually) can not afford to be prepared, they have no place to go, no one else on whom they can rely. Its a tragedy. And those of us who see it that way are prepared/preparing as best we can. That’s why we read this blog, buy the books, and take the online courses. And there is still the necessity to hit the pharmacy as the hurricane approaches to pick up necessary medicine that was already called in. Been there, done that.

      Thank God for watching over us and thank God for “preppers” like you!
      Bob Giese
      Pensacola, Fl

  5. Johnny panic says:

    What about diesel generators? I own a dodge ram that’s been modified to hold 160 gallons of diesel. I’m also a trucker and my big rig holds 300 gallons. I always make sure they are full when I get home. I figure 450 gallons of fuel will last awhile running a generator. Most diesel gen sets are 5 to 6 thousand watts. I’m having a hard time finding a diesel gen. small enough for my needs . Any ideas where to look for a 2 to 3 thousand watt diesel generator?

    • Hey Johnny,

      Conceptually, I love diesels…especially for survival situations. You’ve got tons of options for fueling them, including almost every lubricant in a car, recycled vegetable oil, rendered fat, and gasifiers. They’re especially good for you since you have a pickup and a rig that run on diesel. Diesel has multiple uses for you like gas has multiple uses for us. In an ideal world, we’d have diesel vehicles and generators like you do.

      Diesel generators are more expensive than gas generators, in general, but a big reason for that is the expected usage. Most low end gas generators are made to be used occasionally by homeowners. They are expected to only get used a handfull of times per year, if ever. If they break down, in general it’s assumed that the main concequences are that the owner doesn’t get to watch TV on a car camping trip or that they have to use candles during a power outage. In many cases, generator companies can take shortcuts on low end generators because it will be months or years before the generator gets used more than a handfull of times.

      “Low end” diesel generators, on the other hand, are made to be used by contractors (or the military). They are made to be USED on a daily basis under heavy loads, and when they break down, it means that projects get stalled. They’re made to be abused, and they’re heavy duty. Manufacturers also know that they had better make a product that works, because they’ll probably be running 8-12 hours a day–starting within an hour or so of when they’re purchased.

      Because of this, “low end” diesel generators are considerably more expensive than low end gas generators…and they generally have higher outputs. That being said, there ARE a few diesel generators on Amazon that are rated under 5000 Watts:

    • For low cost diesel generator sets in the 3 – 125KW range try Hardy Diesel or Northern Tools with your favorite search engine.

    • Bob Giese says:

      For a low output diesel generator, go to the store we all use these days, the internet. I’m sure you’ll find it there. Saves fuel and time driving around, too.

  6. Vic Ferrari says:

    There is a simple way to hook up a generator to your house electrical system. First you have to SHUT OFF your MAIN breaker (200amp or 100amp usually). Then run extension cords from the generator to the outlets on the wall. The cords will need the female ends replaced with male ends. Heavy gauge cords are best. If you have any 30amp circuits, plug into them. Then use some 20amp ones. In effect you are back feeding your panel. You can feed your whole house this way, but you are limited by your generator output. Also, the smaller the circuits you run the ext. cords to, the less power you can use. If you overload circuits that are too small you run the risk of damaging them. Also, if you have any electrician friends, consult them. And remember, a case of beer can be cheaper than electrical rates, just have the talking done before the drinking.

    • It’s simple, but I would STRONGLY suggest not backfeeding your system like this. Linemen can be killed if you make an innocent mistake.

      Also, when first responders (like me) are going through neighborhoods after a major disaster looking for people who need help and bodies, we turn off the main breaker on houses before going in. If you’re back feeding electricity into your system, you could kill or injure first responders (like me.)

      Please use the generator to charge batteries, run appliances directly, or use a transfer switch.

      • Vic Ferrari says:

        You are correct David. My reply was mainly for non prepared people in an emergency. A Transfer switch is the best set-up if you want to use your house wiring to distribute your backup electricity.

        • By the way, you do not have to lay out the cost of a transfer switch which is quite expensive. You can accomplish the same thing and meet code and be absolutely disconnected from the commercial power by having an electrician install a “double pole, double throw”(DPDT) switch such that the load is wired to the center of the switch and commercial power to one side with the generator being wired to the remaining side. Throw the switch one way and you are connected to commercial power and throw the switch the other way and you are connected to your generator.

          When I had a house built, I had “stumble” lighting wired throughout the house, the refrigerator, and a few select small outlets wired to a small panel which was fed by the center part of the DPDT switch. One side went to the main panel and was fed by a 60 amp breaker, and the other side went to a female 220VAC outlet in the garage where a generator could be wired and exhausted outside.

          Easily passed inspection and worked great. Saved large amount of money vs transfer switch.

          • Forgot to add that the small panel was right next to the main panel so first responders would see it and have an ability to set it how they wanted. It was also within 20 feet of the generator so they would notice if it was running.

          • Great stuff, George.

    • Besides your other collected comments here is another thought: One side of your wiring is ‘hot’ and the other is ‘neutral’ and is grounded. Be sure to keep them straight if you do not like fires and other mishaps! (240V is 2 ‘hot’ and a ‘neutral’.)

  7. This is my first time on any blog site so please be gentle and hello to all. In preface I have 14 years as a generator field service tech and have recently installed a battery back up system in my house. I have a 8kw generac home standby generator (got it used and fixed it up ), I installed a tripp-lite 2000watt inverter ( hardwired only, 120vac output with built in battery charger ) with 10 31 series marine style baterries. I also have two 100w sunwise solar panels with a Mornigstar 30 amp charge controller for charging battery rack. this set up allows me to run limmited number of appliences ( including fridge and well pump ) for as long as 8-10 hours or longer before charging is needed. If you manage your loads (I.E. unplug un necessary items and run fridge 30 minutes on 1hour off etc. ) you can get surprisingly long life out of your system without loosing too much life style.the cost of this system was approx. $2000 but I think the most important thing you should do is educate yourself in eletrical and other areas. these skills will stay with you and can serve others as well as your self in a true emergency. could say much more but think I have said enough for now. any questions I can answer I’ll be happy to help.

  8. David,
    I was looking at the Yamaha genset… I decided to take a look at Honda’s as well since they build solid equipment… what do you think of the EU2000iA which is Honda’s simliar model? can you take a look at the specs and tell if it is equal or even maybe better than the Yamaha? There is a sale on Black Friday (day after Thanksgiving and looks like a good deal) Companion&modelid=EU2000IAN1 this is to the specs.. it is on sale that day for $899!

  9. Dave, I lived in the U.S. Virgin Islands for 25 years. Not safe now! Who would one contact to find property in Ecuador?

  10. if you have a generator, could you rig up a gasifer to fuel it? true the smoke will be a bulls eye, but if you needed it and it was an emergency could you rig up a wood gasifer to run one? i live on top of a mountain and have 4 fireplaces so smoke is always seen here! and is there a way to use my 12 vot power converter with a solor panel? i practice my wilderness skills often, making fire with diffrent things, from steel wool and 9 vt bat. to steel and flints, i learn as much as i can and use them as much as i can! but power is something i lack!!! i have a small 3,6,9, and 12 volt solor panel to charge cell phones, aa, and 9 volt battries, and a 400 walt 12 vt power converter! any info on the gasifer would be greatly apperacted!
    love your e-mails!
    your fellow prepper,

    • Rick,

      It takes some tinkering, and you’ll have to tweak your methane output for the engine you’re running, but you shouldn’t have a problem running your generator on wood gas. As a bonus, when you’re done, you’ll have charcoal to use/sell 🙂

  11. Although I don’t have one yet, I’ve been looking at propane generators, like the post above. Generally they don’t put out as much power as Gas generators, but propane is more readily available, either by BBQ tanks, or especially if your house is powered by it. Plus you don’t have to worry about propane ‘going bad’, or gumming up your generator engine. Plus, the emissions are much cleaner, so ventilation requirements are much less strict.

  12. I have a 2000 watt Generator that runs on propane. I also have two ventless propane gas heaters that will heat my home. I have 800 gal. of propane in my thousand gal tank. Propane is much better than gasoline for this purpose and it never gets old.

  13. What is your reasoning for using 4 batteries and the hookup you use as opposed to, say, 2 12 volt batteries?

    • That type of decision is generally driven by cost of available supplies. Golf cart batteries are rather affordable deep cycle batteries, but they are 6.3 volts.

  14. It’s rather interesting how everyone has good information. Much of what is suggested here is probably good from a temporary point of view. Unless you have an extensive outlay of resources(i.e. diesel, replacement parts from your generators, extra solar panels and inverters), you might want to scale back on entertaining such ideas on a grand scale. So many folks want to take a lone wolf stand to hold off the marauding hordes that will be coming over yonder hill. In this case, great minds think alike……therefore, it might come as a surprise that folks might want to gather at one accessible point (where you have adequate access to water, fertile land for planting and growing crops, an easily defendable region which allows for adequate protection adn a region which doesn’t have harsh climate most of the year). It would behoove you to start a community and pool your resources to make this a truly survivable situation. David, do you have any suggestions here?

    • My decision is to locate in Ecuador (on the equator — year-round growing season) in a rain forest (plenty of water) and at about 6,800 feet elevation (60 – 80 degree temperature range – no heating or cooling needs). At $5,500 for 25 acres and negligible property taxes it’s a low investment threshold.

      Two big attractions: Neighbors in the low-population area are highly self-sufficient, and at that altitude there are no malaria mosquitos or other tropical diseases, no poisonous snakes, no scorpions, and no termites.

      I have an expandable solar system and 3kw generator. I make my own photovoltaic panels from cells I buy on ebay. I might also install a micro-hydro-turbine, which various neighbors use for electricity. I’ll build my cabin from lumber milled from trees on my property. No building codes apply in the countryside. I hope to move down for good in 2011 or 2012.

      • Sounds like you might know Simon 🙂

      • It is good to remember that any place that has a mean temperature close to your body temperature (i.e. the eqatorial zone) is loaded with microbes, viruses, bacteria, fungi and insects that want to digest you. Small cuts and wounds are easily infected and there are lots of bugs that want to lay their eggs in you. It is not paradise.

    • Hey Jerry,

      Thanks for your comments. We’re on the same wavelength about paring down “necessary” energy consumption and avoiding a situation where we’re continually fighting off maurading hordes.

      That being said, I have my family’s safety to worry about and right now we live where we live…in a major city surrounded by unprepared people.

      Many people who visit the blog and forum are in the same boat…regardless of whether or not they ever want to live in a collective situation like you suggest, they currently live in towns and cities.

      If a disaster hits tomorrow, next month, or 6 months from now, they’ll still be in that same house and not in an established rural setting. As a result, they’ve got to figure out solutions that will work right where they live now.

      That’s why I try to focus on those situations. Before I released my course, almost every book, blog, & forum said that everyone living in cities were SOL and may as well count on being the subject of numerous atrocities in the event of a disaster. History tells a different story, and I wanted to create a workable plan for my family.

      As time went on, I realized that many first responders won’t want to leave. Many people with medical conditions can’t leave. And others who are switched on won’t have an ideal place to go to or won’t be able to get out of Dodge.

      So your idea of a community is great…and I don’t dismiss it because communities like that exist all around the country, but it won’t help most people right away so I haven’t focused on it.

  15. this is the best newsletter yet.

    Exactly what I needed, and have been researching into.

    You have saved me 3 more weeks of looking into info for stuff I wanted and needed to get.

    Great format, with the product recommendations. Please continue to do more. Thanks.

  16. There are RV chest type, 5 cubic foot, refrigerators and freezers with 4″ of insulation all around for around $500-$600. They are dual voltage 120 VAC/12 VDC and will automatically switch to the 12VDC when the 120VAC drops. This means that you don’t have the tremendous inefficiency of the inverter and can run directly off a fused circuit from the battery. Due to the amount of insulation and the energy efficient “chest type” design, the total power draw for a day is very small.

    I am in the process of designing a pedal alternator charger system for batteries using a 10 speed bike and some pulley advantages. Such a system can provide 30amp or larger charging power without pedaling like mad. I’ll check back in and update when I have it working. The alternator provides a much better battery charging system because it provides a larger amount of current and already has the regulator in it. Cost, of course is fairly cheap for an alternator. Charging voltage/current is available at a shaft speed of 750rpm. The bike should be able to provide 1,500rpm.

    • ARB 12V fridges are awesome. They will run on a regular car battery for several days at a lower setting. Can also freeze at a higher setting. Haven’t tried one with solar panels yet but would be interesting. Also small and durable.

  17. Great article. However one clarification a 300W inverter will NOT run a refrigerator or anything over 300W **This is not necessarily correct. See David’s reply below** – they simply shut off – check the back of your appliance for wattage and add the ones you want + some spare – 300W might run the furnace blower. You MUST get a much larger one, or better yet have two a small and a large for flexibility. We had a planned power out here and I ran my two business laptops + large monitors off my car battery & a 400W inverter with 150′ extension cord from inverter to my office, put car at the garage (not in!!), closed the hood over the inverter (carefully placed of course) and the only clue was a small cord from the car to under the closed garage door (well and I did start the car to charge up once in the 6 hour outage). I have a spare battery in case it runs down and I have to jump start the car. I ran the engine only 1/2 hour in the middle of the 6 and drove at the end to recharge. I don’t need lights in the day time. If you need more power of course a bigger inverter is needed, and you will need more engine run time. I have a diesel car (sips at idle) and diesel stores better, less volatile as a fuel – no flash explosion risks. Even with my 2400W inverter I could probably run refrigerator and other things (on/off) for several days on a tank of fuel. Next will be the solar panel/battery/inverter/on-a-cart trick, I like the portability and aiming ability for the panel. One would have to have a rack of batteries all properly wired up for charging and usage to run an appliance without the charging capacity of the car alternator doing the bulk work. Worth doing – but lots of $ for panels and batteries. Like Dave says- do something small that works rather than big dreams that never get done. Add to it later. Off the inverter I charged my shaver, my cell phones, powered a landline wireless phone, the router for wireless internet service, any number of little things that need convenient power source – you decide what you need. Get an inverter, extension cord, and power strip – everyone should have at least a small inverter. Instructions will tell how to use it. PPPall

    • What I wrote was based on what acutally works for us…not on theory. Our 300 Watt inverter runs our full size refrigerator. You bring up a couple of great points:

      1 There isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution. 300 watts works for us, but may not work for you. If you can afford it, it wont hurt to buy a 300 watt inverter, test it, and buy a bigger one if it’s not big enough. Then you’ll have a 300 watt backup.

      2. Just because an appliance is advertised as using a certain amount of energy doesn’t mean the rating is correct. Sometimes manufacturers advertise appliances as using less energy than they actually do. Also, appliances tend to use more electricity as they get older and wear out. In either case, I recommend getting a kill-a-watt (link above) so that you’ll know exactly how much your appliances use during their different phases.

  18. why bother with the noise and smell and exhaust of generators at all?
    you can buy a fuel cell which runs on any hydrocarbon fuel you have available including pure hydrogen, and it makes no noise at all no moving parts no exhaust. it is not any bigger than an ice chest. it only gives off heat and pure water. it looks like nothing anyone would want or be interested in but it is expensive. $6000 per kw right now. and if you can figure out how to generate hydrogen faster than it can use it, it will essentially run on water.

    they now have an airplane with electric motors that never has to land. the tops of the wings are solar panels they are used to break down water by electrolysis the hydrogen and oxygen are stored in tanks. they are recombined in the fuel cell which gives off water and heat. the entire thing is an enclosed system. it never runs out of water, hydrogen or electricity. you can do the same thing for your home but that will cost you well over $100,000. but you will be off grid forever after that. the only down side is that fuel cells do wear out eventually. the actual working part of the cell changes composition eventually. sort of like a lead acid battery does.

  19. Please explain how one goes about setting up a 12 volt inverter to power the blower on a gas furnace in the winter. Brilliant short term solution however the majority of us are not electricians.

  20. I looked at the Solutions from Science solar generator and made one more powerful for less than a third of the price. I picked up the 45W solar panel kit at Harbor Freight on sale plus an additional 20% coupon, (The 20% coupons are in the Sunday papers and almost every car magazine, and work with the sale price) and totaled out at about $150. It also comes with a regulator so you don’t overcharge the battery. (Good timing can net a lower price, but not much.) I fed this into a 12V AGM battery from O’Reilly’s Auto parts store. They are the only ones in our area with a house brand AGM type battery, which are more forgiving for solar applications. The specs are a little better than the deep cycle Optimas, but the price is $50 less, and the warranty is 7 years vs. Optima’s 2. It was only $139. I then picked up a 750/1500 A inverter at Wal-Mart for $59. It hooks up and looks like it sounds. I threw it on a cart that I wasn’t using for portability, and can fully recharge in a day. Total was less than $350, and I have about 120 AH.

  21. I too have seen the “Solar Generators” from Solutions From Science. To me, it looks like a 1800w UPS with a clunky solar panel on wheels. ~$1800 seems awfully expensive for a UPS power supply w/ a solar panel. I like the idea, but just doesn’t seem to be cost effective for the small amount of juice it puts out.

    I’m trying to figure out what the best option is for my house to keep things powered up, but not draw too much attention. I live in the suburbs, and in a non-tract house neighborhood. I agree with David that big solar panels on the roof and (I believe) [wind powered generators] will be a target for those looking to prey on us preppers. I think each persons location and security along with the ability to hide or muffle sounds will help to determine the best combination of solar/wind/generator/battery pack set-up to get for your home.

    Nice job David. Helps to have more ideas to consider. Where is a good place to look for the batteries you mentioned? Local C-list classifieds, or should we buy new? Thanks!

    • I tried to allude to the Solutions From Science solar generators in the article without mentioning them directly. I don’t know Bill (the owner) directly, but I DO like what I know about him and I really appreciate what he’s done to help educate people about preparedness and get them prepared. I’ve even advertised with them before, but they decided that I’m a direct competitor and will no longer let me advertise with them, although I would welcome the opportunity to do so again.

      As to their BBB rating…anytime you get as many customers as SFS gets, you’re going to get complaints. Most businesses don’t feel like it’s worth it to placate the BBB and feel like they extort money from businesses and let complaints stand and simply contact the customer directly to get things resolved. Some of their physical products are more expensive than if you buy them from other vendors, but I can’t fault them for having the skill to sell products at a profit…after all, that profit gets put back into marketing which allows them to help even more people get prepared.

      A year and a half ago, when I first started offering the course, I showed people how to make a system for a few hundred bucks like what Solutions From Science sells for $1700. The 90 watt panel costs $200-$300 (retail) and the battery pack & inverter costs $400-$500. The panel is severely undersized for actual use and simply will not provide enough charging power to run appliances.

      • David,

        And as a result of your offering, SFS lowered their price in a “clearance sale” down to about $1100 which is close to the cost of your kit, and that’s the price I got it at last year, so thank you for that! I consider that my stop gap solution for now and as I educate myself more on this topic, I can progress to bigger/better solutions.


        • That’s interesting on the pricing. If people are willing to pay $1700 for the kit, then it’s worth it. I don’t think that they needed to drop the price to $1100…it just means that they won’t be able to advertise as much and reach as many people.

          It IS a good stop gap solution, but the big shortfall is charging, which you could take care of with multiple panels and/or a crank generator.

  22. An equipment sales and rental owner told me that regular unleaded gas is only “fresh” for approx. 2 months. He puts premium in all generators, snowblowers etc. that he sells because it stays fresh for approx. 5 months without treating with Stabil or similar product.

    • I still suggest using fuel stabilizer. With stabil, if you read the label, it says that you can get 2 years of storage if you double the amount. We don’t have a cool place to store gas, so we use 2x the amount and rotate every year.

  23. Eric Drayner says:

    Here’s what I’m doing: I bought a power transfer switch for about $300 that will allow me to power as many as 6 circuits in my house at one time, depending on the size of the generator. You can wire it into your power panel and put the switch box wherever you want it. I mounted mine on the side of the house in the back yard. Get an electrican to do it!
    I have a 4-stroke powered 4 KW gen, and it easily runs my freezer and a few other things if I need it to. The generator is kind of loud, but I bought a sportbike motorcycle muffler from some fool who was putting a LOUD pipe on his new Honda and adapted it to the gen. It works great. I put some temporary baffles up around the gen when it’s running, and the thing is a LOT quieter…just about as quiet as a much more costly Honda or Yamaha gen.
    I have a small RV trailer with 2 large 6v golf cart batteries in series and I use an inexpensive 15 watt solar panel mounted on the roof of the trailer to keep them charged up. A 500 watt inverter inside provides “clean” AC power.

    • Way to go, Eric. The power transfer switch IS a much more elegant solution, although slightly more visible.

      Also, the baffles are what I was alluding to when I said to run generators so that they’re surrounded by “stuff” rather than out in the open. What are you using for baffles?

      • Eric Drayner says:

        4 pieces of sheetrock wallboard with pieces of fiberglass batting (attic insulation) spray-glued stuck onto the inner side. Some shelf brackets screwed to the bottom edge of the panels lets them stand up just like office partitions. I stack them up in the tool shed when they are not in use. I can’t hear the thing running from the front of the house, and just barely from inside.

        BTW, the visibility issue of the transfer switch is an easy one, because you can put the transfer switch panel anywhere you want it. Mine is on the back exterior wall of the house. The backyard has a 6′ board fenceand a beautiful german shepherd dog who takes pulling guard duty pretty seriously.

  24. David,
    If i remember right, when I bought my generator a few years ago the manual said the db level was measured at 50 feet. I don’t know if that is “industry standard” or not.

  25. Ethel Divinia says:

    I have purchased quite a few things from Solutions from Science. I do have the smallest unit and have used it several times during power outages. I am very pleased with the company.


  27. Dave,

    A great article. Very useful info; great links; makes you think; practical and useful. Thank you. More articles like this!!!

  28. Iris Bryan says:

    I, like Ben Martino, reside in a facility that has all electric appliances and baseboard heat. It also is HUD affiliated and there are many things one cannot do. Unlike Ben, my living quarters are two rooms plus bath and small kitchen. As for refrigeration, well there is always the ice cooler, that is if one can find ice. If it is winter and cold enough an ice cooler outside might be helpful. I suspect that if thre is such an emergency, there might be larger locations where people can be located where larger generators are being used. I will have to check with our county hazard mitigation group.

  29. great stuff man keep it up poeple need learn this

    it real also talk about water safety also firearms

    thank you

  30. Don’t forget that gasoline now has government mandated ethanol in it, which means it will deteriorate after ~ 30 days, and must be stabilized for long term storage.

    • I’m not sure that the 30 day timeframe is correct…I’m going to have to check on that. That being said, I hate ethanol with a passion. (Yes…I said “hate.”) More accurately, I hate what ethanol represents to me…which is government inefficiency, predatory lobbying groups, false science, and the need for Congress to feel like people are dependant on them so that they can provide a bandaid solutoin.

      -Ethanol manufacturing wastes 1/3 of our corn production.
      -People who have tested ethanol vs. non ethanol blends consistantly report a significant drop in mileage.
      -Using corn for ethanol drives the price of meat up.
      -Using corn for ethanol causes more land to be used for planting corn, which causes other grain prices to go up.
      -Government mandated ethanol use artificially props up grain prices which effects grain farmers’ bottom lines. When they go to the bank to get mortgages & loans, they use numbers that are inflated due to ethanol. The end result is that we can’t undo the ethanol mandate without negatively effecting the bottom lines of farmers and throwing a wrench into every loan that was underwritten based on “ethanol numbers.”

      So, it causes lower mileage and higher prices if we keep the program in place and sudden financial distress if we undo it.

      This isn’t a new thing…we had ethanol at the pumps back in the early 90s in the midwest. It was bad then and it’s been bad since.

      • I agree with you on the gov’t sanctoned use of alternative fuels, even though I do have an interest in alternative energy technologies, as I can see many of us do. My interest though stems from the self sufficiency perspective, I’ve messed with WVO for diesel power, running engines using painter’s alcohol for the sake of being able to say that I did run them on alcohol, and solar power. My problem, just like yours from what I can see is when the gov’t makes people use this stuff, despite the high costs from an industrial perspective, which helps kill the appeal of it.

        When people like us collect old veggie oil from fish houses and filter it to run our old diesel cars/trucks, or use surplus grain or other produce from our farms to make some alcohol for our motorbike or lawn mowers, or buy some cheapo solar panels and inverters from harbor freight to recharge some deep cycle batteries to keep a couple of CF lamps lit during an outage, its more appealing than pulling up to a gas station and filling up with a gallon of biodiesel/E-85 that only costs a few cents less than petro fuel or having to hire a $100/hr electrician to wire up high end solar panels to our cabins just to be able to get a tax credit, then instead of promoting the idea of alternate energy, we’re just propping up yet another industry who lobbied for this stuff so they can make a buck.

        With that said, I’m still gonna show my interest in alternate energy, but from the DIY’er’s perspective, not the gov’t mandated industry standard’s perspective.

      • Here! Here! yes, I HATE ethanol as well…

        there are still a few stations (at least here in middle Tennessee) that advertise “No Ethanol” – so folks could look around for a distributor/station who does this…

        I drive a little Golf VW TDI diesel that gets about 55 mpg depending on how i drive… i have gotten 60 on one tank…. its very satisfying when you clip over 900 miles on a tank of diesel! (my best tank: 1006 miles)

        I had a debate on a local college TV political show… I was taking the ‘anti-illegal alien’ standpoint and my opponent ran a non-profit ‘pro-immigration’ position…

        the college had reserved two parking spots for us and when we were about to start taping he said “I noticed you have a Golf TDI… why do you have a ‘Drill Here, Drill Now’ sticker?” (indicating that i was driving an environmental-friendly car)

        I replied, “because the green i’m interested in is in my wallet…” he didn’t like that so much… so, yeah, i’m all about alternative energy when i can save money etc…

        • Heh thats too funny, when you mention trying to save “green” instead of going “green” the tree huggers cringe, like one should go broke trying to stay within the realm of eco-friendliness. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for eco-friendly stuff, but not when its gov’t mandated and shoved down my throat, at any cost, usually to all of us. Under most circumstances, most of this eco-friendly stuff usually isn’t eco-friendly at all, when you factor in the industrial processes necessary to produce a lot of this eco-friendly stuff, most of which are just as polluting or worse, than the methods they were supposed to replace. Just like ethanol, when you factor in all of the diesel and other fuels used in the process of growing the crops, processing the crops into fuel then transporting the stuff to the service stations, it finds itself to be just as polluting as drilling for oil or mining for coal. It’s too bad these tree huggers couldn’t see it that way before participating in the endorsement of things that for all intents go against their anti business/industrial feelings (for many of them).

        • ROTFL !!!!!!!

      • I received an email from the Tea Party or something of that nature that the mandate for ethanol subsidy was not funded this time. Don’t know if that means the mandate itself will end, but at least a start perhaps in that direction.

  31. What is the story on magnetic motors generating electricity? A seeming perpetual motion device. are they total scams??

    • I’ve been looking at units like these in person for 17 years and I haven’t found a single one yet that works on a scale that produces usable energy. Friction, gravity, and the inefficiencies of generators and other laws of physics are a huge hurdle. Many people claim that particular designs have been shut down by the government or big oil, but that doesn’t explain why people don’t have homemade systems running in their backyards across the country.

      If you’ve seen one work or have one (not that you’ve seen a video, read about one, or heard about one) then please let me know. I’d love for the rules of physics to be wrong and this to be possible; but personally I’m not holding my breath.

      • Glad to see that last remark. Got an email tonight from someone wanting me to buy the plans to one of these magnetic generators, which it claimed the site might be taken down any second and I HAD to purchase immediately. And when I declined, offered to take $10 off, and when I tried to get off the offer, offered to make $20 off the price they were asking. Felt like I was dealing with a fish oil salesman and went on and got off. Don’t like dealing with the high pressure people who claim if you don’t buy their stuff that very second it will never be available again.
        I was wondering if it would work. And they claimed that anyone who could screw in a lightbulb would be able to put this thing together themself. They do not know me.

  32. Kang & Kodos says:

    Did you miss a couple of words? Under the “Inverter” heading, 2nd paragraph, you have:

    “Along with the inverter, I’d suggest getting as big (small guage number) as you can find and afford.”

    As big a what?

    Great article though, it has some good info, thanks!


    • Kang,
      He is talking about the extension cord. They are guaged by #. for example a #16 cord is very light duty and will overheat if much load is put on it. Most of your house is wired with #14 wire but your kitchen, utility and garage areas are wired with #12. For a generator extension cord into the house I built one out of #10 wire with a four outlet box on the end. Also, the longer the cord the bigger wire (lower #) is recomended.

    • Thanks Kang! I fixed the omission.

  33. Looking at portable solar panel (Brunton) and it states:
    “What’s in the Box?
    Solaris 26 foldable solar panel, vehicle outlet cable, multi-linking cable, battery clamp cable, storage sack, user’s manual.”
    I don’t know anything about these things, so I’m thinking that I want to plug a laptop or phone charger into this – none of the things listed above tells me that I can do this – am I missing some of the ‘jargon’ of what you call the electric plug from my device? I didn’t see anything in the pictures that would reassure me. The picture of the inverter shows a definite plug receptacle that I’m familiar with.

    • Hey Tom,

      Personally, I’m much more comfortable using solar systems to charge batteries that I use to run electronics than plugging the solar panels directly into the electronics. There is a loss of efficiency by doing this two step process, but the benefit of protecting my electronics wins out.

  34. David – thanks much for a such a great article. One of the most practical ones I’ve read on this subject. Also love the links to the items mentioned in the article. Keep up the great work.

  35. David…I have a wood stove in my basement that heats my house….that could be very helpful during an emergency…….my wood splitter is hand operated (very easy to pump)….yes slower, but we do not use any electricity or gas to split wood….the manual wood splitter was cheaper than electrical or gas operated splitters……..Just an idea..!!!!

    • Absolutely correct…but many people (including myself) don’t have fireplaces due to the way their house was built, or because they’re in a house/apartment/condo.

      It’s not ideal, but it is the real world for many people right now.

    • Hi Julio, What manual log splitter did you buy? Know there are many different types on the market. Can you send a link or a brand name? Would help me loads to know of one that actually works. Thanks so much! Regards, Marilyn

  36. Great article Dave but I never could grasp the whole electrical Im posing this question for you if you dont mind..I have a pickup with dual gas tanks and a 15′ camper..I want to be able to live in the camper for as long as I can at one time..I was thinking about a combination of a generator, deep cycle battery bank and propane.. and wiring it so I could run appliances/lights/tv and ps2game or dvd player off the generator and deepcycle batts mounted in the box of my truck under the topper..the stove is fine running off the propane, I will get a couple extra tanks to be safe…heat will be both propane and electric..the idea is to make the camper as self sufficent as possible for as long as possible..I had planned of routing the gas line from the truck tank to the generator and maybe using an electric fuel pump..also wiring the genny to a charger that while running would charge the bank of DC batts..I also want to have a powercord built of 50′ lenght so I can seperate the trailer from truck..any ideas

    • Hey Darrell,

      That’s going to require a much longer off-the-blog reply than I can do here. In short, to be as self sufficient as possible for as long as possible, you need to figure out how to minimize your energy use and then figure out how to get as much of your energy from renewable sources as possible.

      A couple of things I’d suggest is using a renewable source of energy for as much of your cooking/heating as possible and installing rooftop solar panels and/or a pedal generator to recharge your batteries.

  37. JC McClain says:


    Thanks for the great overview, and emphasis on a pragmatic system that works versus an ideal, TEOTWAWKI off-the-grid power plan that is never actually implemented and used.

    One question/critique: You mentioned using a 300-watt inverter to power a refrigerator from your car (or any other 12V power source). I’m not sure how big the refrigerator you’re referring to is, but even a 1000W inverter probably won’t meet the demand of a typical household refrigerator running at 600-700W, with a 1500W or greater peak starting power for the compressor motor. I tested my 2000W (Honeywell) inverter generator on our 28 cu ft Energy Star refrigerator, and it demanded almost all of the available power (judging by the noticeable revving of the generator engine). It did not trip the CB or overload it, so the generator handled it okay, but even with 2200W peak power available the compressor motor was noticeably slower to start than when plugged into a wall outlet.

    Just my two cents, and a suggestion for maybe getting into more detail on analyzing power requirements in the future. Thank you again for the weekly newsletter.

    Stay well,


    • Hey JC, I know from experience that it works, but I just hooked my meter up to my fridge and confirmed that it draws 20-21 watts when the compressor is off and right at 200 watts when the door is open and the compressor is running.

      • JC’s point is that the starting load for motors (compressors in this case) is about twice the running load and to successfully run this type of load your system needs a substantial surge capacity or a large (power eating) size.

  38. Dave, great article. But there are issues with your battery math.

    – Two 200 Ah, 6-volt batteries in series are not 400 Ah, they are 200 Ah at 12 volts. The watt-hours increase from 1.2 kWh to 2.4 kWh, but the ampere hours only add up when batteries are wired in parallel. So four 200 Ah golf cart batteries in series-parallel configuration will contain only 400 Ah at 12 volts, or 4.8 kWh.

    – Deep cycle batteries are generally rated at a C/20 rate, or a current flow of rated capacity divided by 20 hours. The amount of electricity you can extract decreases the faster you try to withdraw the current. So a 200 Ah battery can be fully expected to provide 10 amps (200/20) for 20 hours to depletion, but it would be very unusual for the battery to be able to provide 200 amps for a full 60 minutes.

    – The number of recharges available on a deep-cycle battery is inversely proportional to the depth of each discharge. If you search the manufacturers’ websites, you can sometimes find a graph on life expectancy. One quality battery I looked up can have hundreds of partial discharges, but expected only THREE discharges to depletion while maintaining full capacity. Many users have calculated their favorite percentage of discharge in order to balance usefulness with life expectancy. Most of the figures hover around 50 percent. So at 50% depletion after each charge, your 12-volt, 400 Ah bank will provide you with 20 amps for 10 hours (or 10 amps for 20+ hours) hundreds of times. With good energy management, this will carry your loads between generator runs quite nicely. – RR

    • Hey RR,

      Thanks for your comments, but it looks like we’re both partially correct 🙂 Even with my engineering background, I still make mistakes. It’s been awhile since I set up our batteries and I did my Ah calculations from memory when I wrote the ariticle. I truly appreciate you pointing this out and I’ve fixed it in the article above.

      So, going back to the fundamental formula, Watts=VoltsXAmps, the wattage of the system will stay the same, regardless of the configuration.

      So, since I have 2 sets of 2 6v 200 Ah batteries in parallel and the sets connected in series, here’s how it works out:
      4x6vx200Ah=4800 watt-hours
      Since I’ve got 12 volts leaving the system, my Ah capacity is 4,800/12=400 Ah. By the time people read this, it will be corrected in the article, but I want to make sure you get credit for pointing it out. Thanks again.

      You’re exactly correct on the capacity dropping as the load increases. I don’t think that I said anything contrary to that.

      And you’re also correct on the charge/depth of discharge relationship. That is one of the reasons why I suggested getting a system that is sized 2x larger than what you actually need.

  39. Hi David, and thanks for the info…always good stuff!

    There are a couple of typos in the report that kind of throw off the message:

    “Along with the inverter, I’d suggest getting as big (small guage number) [should there be something here?] as you can find and afford.  This is especially important if you’re crossing a large distance or have a large load.”

    “If you run the unit at ¼ the rated load (400 watts,) it burns through 1.1 gallons every 10 hours, giving you 30 AH of power.  Since our refrigerator [end of sentence here]”

  40. David,

    Does anyone know anything about the three “solar generator” packages sold by Solutions From Science? The company has a very low rating from the Better Business Bureau and there’s no option to return the product if it is unsatisfactory. It can only be returned it if is defective. For those reasons, I’m hesitant to buy one. If someone already has tried one, could you advise if it performs as advertised? Thank you.

    • I got the solar panel from Soutions from Science and I’m very satisfied with the quality. It is extremely well made and built to last. I have used the solar panel and it worked fine. I recently sold my house and live in an apartment but I have the battery plugged in right now and expect it to work just as well as it has when I tried it out in my house. Let me know if you have any other questions.


      • It’s not that the quality is bad…I wouldn’t expect that from Bill. The issue that I have with them is that the solar panel doesn’t charge the battery fast enough to run appliances. You can run appliances from the battery, but once the battery dies you’ve got to figure out a way to charge it. The assumption in looking at it is that it will act like a solar generator and make enough power to charge up the big battery with 1 day worth of sun.

      • Thanks, Joe. What product did you by from SFS and how did you use it? Or, how do you use it? Thanks!

  41. Great stuff Dave ~
    However, what are some thing that can be done by people who don’t own their own homes ? People living in apartment building, condo’s… or people like me, who, although I live in a single family home, it’s not mine, I rent it from the local housing authority, and we’re not allowed to have generators, there’s no fire place, no wood stoves are allowed, we can’t even have a fire pit, or outside stove….

    All the appliances are electric also….

    I’m thinking, at least for short term emergencies, your battery and inverter system might be something I could rig up, if I can figure out how to tie into the furnace….
    At least we could have a couple of them and run the refrigerator and the furnace…. that would be a big improvement over nothing….

    • BE VERY CAREFUL WHEN ‘BACK FEEDING’ POWER. Remember, in a situation like yours, the Ground portion of the house is not isolated! You will be adding electricity to the grid, and possibly kill someone accidentally. If you can plug whatever needs to be powered up directly into the inverter, or generator you are set.

      Food for thought.


    • Emergency cooking could be done outdoors on a propane grill. This would be unlikely to be prohibited. Camping stoves are also nice in emergencies.
      As for comments on powering your whole house: This MUST be done through a change over switch. If you do not understand what I mean then this project is beyond you and you need to see an electrition (of the licensed variety!).


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