Well, here it is… Tornado and Hurricane season. Depending on where you live that may not mean a whole lot, but to some of us (I live in a place known as “hurricane alley”) every time a storm brews, it’s always in the back of our minds. People in the northeast probably didn’t think about hurricane season with any sense of anxiety… until last fall. Then Sandy hit. I think she changed everything up there.
Remember Katrina? Who doesn’t? Thousands were displaced in the aftermath, but in the first days and hours, so many were left stranded, alone and powerless. Powerless… by that I mean they seemed to have no control over their lives, but also millions were actually without power… powerless. Can you imagine what having just a little electricity would have meant to them? Unless their homes were completely underwater, having power could have meant they could stay in place and not have to be moved to another town… or state… or the death trap they called a stadium !
What I want to show you here, is that it is relatively easy to put together a small, inexpensive system that can provide power when the power is off. And, if you have been without power for any length of time, you know how helpless it feels… unless you can beat the system and provide your own. I’ve made a video detailing the components of the system, and how it’s put together. Check it out below:
One of the first things you need to do is determine how much power you will need. You can find that out easily. This is one of the handiest things I have seen in a long while. The Kill-A-Watt meter lets you know exactly how many watts your appliances, TVs, etc will be using. It is easy to use and will provide you with information that you really need to know.
Click on the picture above to check out the Kill-A-Watt meter
So, let’s look at the components of the system. That’s pretty easy to do since there are only three.
The heart of any system is the battery bank. Why? That’s the storage facility for the power you will need. If the storage is depleted, you are no better off than your neighbor. In this case these batteries are easy to find, They are deep cycle Marine batteries. They can be found at Walmart or many other places. Why deep cycle, why not just a regular car battery? A car battery is not designed to be discharged and recharged over and over. Typically a car battery is kept charged by the alternator. So, if everything is working right, as soon as you start the car, whatever power was used to start it, is now being replenished by the charging system. A deep cycle, on the other hand, is designed to be pulled down… recharged… and pulled down again… over and over again. They can handle the stress. So, here is a look at the deep cycle batteries I used:
Again, there’s nothing special about them. I picked them up at Walmart for about 80 bucks each. Now, do I need two? Could I get away with one? Yes, but here again, it’s all about storage. If the power is out for several days, I could deplete my battery “pantry” pretty quick.
The second component is a battery charger. Your alternator charges your batteries as the car runs, but these batteries will just be sitting there. How will they be kept up to full charge? The battery charger, of course (makes sense, right)? The battery charger used needs to be powerful enough to put the charge into the batteries in as little time as possible. Here is a look at the one I used:
It’s small and easy to carry if you need to move it. Why couldn’t I just use my trickle charger? Well, consider this scenario… If the power has been out for a long time and your batteries are getting low, why not just crank up your car, connect a small inverter (which I will show in a minute) and recharge the batteries. So in this case, even if the power has not come back on, you can still recharge your batteries. That’s why you would want a battery charger that will put as much power back into the batteries as fast as they can take it. From my research, for this battery bank, a charger that is around 30 to 50 amps would be needed. Could you use a smaller one? Maybe, but if you are idling your car trying to charge the batteries, why would you want to run your car for hours waiting for an underpowered charger to top them off. Besides, this type of battery is made to accept a charge quickly. A “trickle” charger might not bring them up to where they need to be.
Here is the charger I used:
Click on the image above to take a closer look at the Shumacher charger.
This charger is computerized. It has a maintenance charge, a slow charge and a 30 amp fast charge option that will cram the power back in your batteries quick. It also has a “Start” option which is 100 amps. This can be used if the battery on your car is dead and you need to start it now. The “Start” option should not be used on your battery bank, though. It’s just for starting your vehicle.
Now, really there is just one more component. That’s what makes this system so neat. It is very simple, only 3 components, and with the exception of the batteries, all of the components come with their own cables. You don’t have to buy or build the right size cables to match up with these components. Cables are included… how cool is that?
The final component is the inverter. Man, there are a lot of inverters out there. I chose to stay with a brand that I recognized, and one that has a ton of great reviews. The inverter I used is a Duracell 800 watt inverter. Now, if you think 800 watts will be too small for you, there are plenty of larger options out there, and I will give you a link to check them out. One thing to note is that once you go over around 800 watts, the inverters might not come with cables. That is something you will have to research, and size your cables accordingly. Here’s the inverter I used:
Click on the link below if you want to take a closer look:
The Duracell 800 watt is very popular and is often sold out, so if the Duracell is not available, here is another well-known brand, with great reviews, in that same wattage:
Click the picture above to take a closer look.
There are lot of different inverters on the market that are around this size, some that come in lower wattage and some with much higher wattage. I have a list of many of them at my website. Just click on the MY STORE tab above, then look at the “Browse by Category” section under “Solar Power Components”. I have several chargers, inverters and even batteries listed there, along with solar panels, charge controllers and many other items that are needed to put together a Home Power Station. Here’s something many don’t know… if you are an Amazon Prime Member, they ship most items for free. Can you imagine getting some 60 LB batteries shipped half way across the country for FREE? That is definitely something you might want to check into. And, you can have several family members on the same Prime membership, so everyone saves!
Speaking of solar, in the video above I mention hooking up a solar panel or two to charge your batteries. On my BIG system at home, I have 4 solar panels charging a huge battery bank. There’s a charge controller between the batteries and the solar panels to make sure the batteries are not overcharged. It’s difficult to discuss all the intricacies of that system here, so be sure and watch the video below to get a good idea as to how I put together my larger system. It has well over a QUARTER OF A MILLION VIEWS on YouTube. That’s amazing! Here’s that video:
Now, you may have noticed in the very first picture on this post, that I have 2 batteries. I wired the 2 batteries in “parallel” with two #4 cables. This increased my capacity, but kept the batteries at 12 volts. If you use more than one battery, you will need to use cables to join them together.
Here’s a set of #4 cables that are color coded and might be right for you, if you don’t feel comfortable building your own cables.
So, that’s about it. The inverter powers things in your house (via an extension cord), the inverter gets it’s power from the batteries, and the batteries get their power from the charger. Kinda like the “Circle of Life”, huh?
I do hope you’ll watch the videos above because, if a picture is worth a thousand words… a video must be worth a million.
Don’t be caught with your “pants down” in a “grid down” situation… it’s too easy to be prepared for it. Oh, did I mention that this whole thing cost about 300 bucks? That’s a small price to pay for a heck of a lot of peace of mind.
Also, watch this video about Off Grid Lighting. It might just change your mind about keeping a lot of kerosene or oil lanterns around your house. It’s a pretty informative video about having light, when everybody else is in the dark.
I hope this helps somewhat. I enjoyed putting the system together. I really didn’t need the batteries (yet) but wanted to buy a couple of them to show you what can be done on a limited budget. Don’t get me wrong, I’ll use the batteries at some point. My tractor and truck will be the recipient of them soon, I’m sure.
Speaking of batteries, you may ask how long I expect the deep cycle batteries to last. Well, on my tractor and old truck I still have the deep cycle batteries that I bought when my power went out during Hurricane Ike. That was in September 2008. That’s a long time, for a small investment. By the way, we were without power for 5 days, but we really fared pretty well because of a little planning and preparing.
You can too.Disclaimer: The system described here is for educational purposes. I am not responsible for any injury or accident incurred by anyone attempting to duplicate this