My Thanks to Philip Foster for this timely article on making a simple and effective backup system for coping with black-outs this winter. Be prepared and don’t freeze!
With the likely prospect of power cuts lasting several hours or even days this winter due to becalmed wind turbines, there are things to watch out for and ways to be ready for them.
This article shows how to put in place a standby system in an average home at a cost of around £300.
If you are heated by gas or oil remember a power cut prevents your boiler from working. Gas and oil boilers need electricity to run ignition, electronics, pumps and valves. The same is true of most gas cookers. So you will need off-grid electric power.
If you are totally electric then, sadly, there are limited options. It would be sensible to have a camping gas stove (£20-£30), a bottled gas room heater (£130, eg Rhino H02233 Catalytic Heater) and plenty of LED lamps and torches with spare batteries.
- If you have a garden and/or a garage,
a petrol generator is the best choice. It can supply a constant 1000w for as long as you have the petrol.
1000w generators (‘inverter’ type which give smooth ‘sine wave’ AC enabling delicate equipment like computers to run safely) are around £250 – £300, such as:
Clarke-ig1000 (made in China)
You can, of course, buy as big a generator as you have room for, but the cost increases proportionally! So I’m using a basic 1000w setup as my example.
You could organise a shared setup with neighbours.
A generator will need basic shelter from the elements, such as an open garage or a simple ‘doghouse’ which allows a free flow of air to ensure the unit doesn’t overheat and the exhaust is fully open to the air.
Important note. DO NOT run the generator in a closed garage or other enclosed space as the accumulation of exhaust fumes is lethal!
[added] You can plug appliances directly into the output of a generator or inverter. Never ever feed the generator or inverter into fixed house wiring, risks electrocution of third parties and other problems.
- If not,
then batteries and inverter are the better choice. A 1000w 12v inverter (£110) + large 12v 120Ah Lead Acid battery (£110) + auto mains charger (£30). These can be kept inside.
This setup has limitations as to how long it can run for. It depends on the capacity of the charged battery. For example a 120Ah 12v battery will deliver 1000w for about one hour, 500w for about two hours etc. If you have extra batteries (which are around £110 each) then the setup can last proportionally longer before recharging.
Both systems will run the boiler, fridge, some lighting, FS TV and computer (NOT a laser printer though). [added] if these can be plugged into the generator.
If you have all electric cooking, then purchasing a gas camping stove and a kettle would be strongly advised. They cost around £20-£30 for a double ring.
Here are some power ratings which may be helpful:
Average gas/oil boiler – 250w – pump, valves and ignition etc.
Low energy light bulbs: variable ~ 20w. Even if you don’t like them it is as well to use them during power cuts. LEDs are better than CFs.
Fridge 200-300w, Freezers ditto.
TV ~100w + boxes, about 20w each.
Computer plus extras 200w variable, inkjets are OK but NOT Laser printers.
Home powered telephone units ie wireless type 3-4w.
Mobile phone chargers 10-20w max
THESE ARE FOR GUIDANCE ONLY
check your devices for power use.
If rating is not given in watt then multiply voltage times ampage.
V × I = W
Under no circumstances can you use:
Electric shower, electric cooker, electric kettle, dishwasher, washing machine, hoover, tumble drier, electric heater, iron, hair drier, microwave. Overloading will automatically cause the generator or inverter to cut out.
The National Grid should be able to tell you how long a power cut is likely to last – unless it is caused by storm damage. You can arrange to be rung back by National Grid to tell/text you when power has been restored – look up in Telephone Directory or web – or you can check with neighbours!
If you feel uncertain about how to do this, talk it over unofficially with a friendly electrician or friend with electrical knowledge. Though the suggested arrangements are quite safe when used correctly, they might not get official H&S approval – but then not dying of hypothermia could perhaps be more important.
You can contact the author if you wish to make suggestions or for advice.
He has successfully put this into practice.
However, please note that the author can accept no liability for the advice given