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How Emergency Power Systems Work


A wide variety of natural disasters can cause longterm power outages. Things like tornadoes, hurricanes, flooding, lighting, ice storms and blizzards can take out the power for hours or days at a time. Even something as simple as a blown transformer or a car running into a utility pole can knock out the electricity in an entire neighborhood for a day or two.

We are all dependent on electricity, so a power outage of more than a few minutes becomes pretty annoying. As the duration of a power failure stretches beyond an hour, there are more severe problems that can cause things to get expensive or dangerous:

  • 1. During the winter, a power failure normally disables your home's heating system. As the house cools, (depending on where you live) it can become uninhabitable. In addition, frozen pipes can cause thousands of dollars in damage.

  • 2. A power failure means that refrigeratorsand freezers stop running. In the summer, frozen food melts and can make a real mess. If you have invested in a side of beef, losses can reach $1,000 or more during a multi-day power failure.

  • 3. If you have a medical condition that requires special equipment, a power failure can create a life-or-death situation.

  • 4. If you live in a rural area with a private well, a power failure cuts off your water supply.

    It is now easy to buy an emergency power system to avoid all of these problems. We will look at several options and also discuss different ways to wire them into your home so that you will never have to worry about a power failure again.

Emergency Power Options and Goals

To generate normal 120-volt power on an emergency basis, you have two options:

  • You can buy an engine-powered generator. The engine can burn gasoline, diesel or propane.

  • You can buy an inverter and power it from your automatic battery or a deep cycle battery you have purchased for the inverter.

    To decide which alternative is best for you, you need to decide what your goals are during a power failure. There are perhaps four different ways to think about emergency power:

  • I want to provide a very minimal set of creature comforts -- I want to be able to power a few lights so I don't have to burn candles, power my cell phone, power an emergency radio and operate a fan.
    You can do this with a small generator or with a small inverter that plugs into your car's lighter socket.

  • I want to be able to operate a microwaveoven , a TV, some lightsand my computerso I can eat and get some work done.
    You can do this with a small 1000-watt generator and plug things into it with an extension cord.

  • My main goal is to keep my refrigerator and/or freezer running, but I would also like to run some lights and small appliances.
    You can do this with a 2,500- to 3,500-watt generator and plug things into it with extension cords.

  • I want to be able to power my well pump and water heater, the blower in my furnace, a room air conditioner, my refrigerator and other basic appliances.
    You can do this with a 5,000-watt generator that is wired into your home's circuit panel.