Eight Emergency Power Options

Blizzards, tornadoes, hurricanes—if you live in a place where severe weather could leave you without power for days, you need a plan to provide yourself with emergency power. Here are some alternatives.

| February/March 2009

  • Power line ice
    Winter storms can wreak havoc with the electric grid, particularly with aging infrastructure.
    BRONWYNPHOTO/FOTOLIA
  • Lit house in snow
    Losing electricity during the winter can be dangerous. Arrange in advance for an emergency power source to keep your home and family warm.
    PHOTO: FOTOLIA

  • Power line ice
  • Lit house in snow

If it’s frigid outside and the electrical grid goes down, you need backup heating right away. Central heating systems fueled with oil or gas need electricity to function, and when they quit, houses can become unlivable in a matter of hours.

All over the country, the transmission lines, transformers and switches that make up the electrical grid are old and overloaded, according to Daniel Scotto, a Wall Street financial analyst specializing in electric utilities. Experts say we can expect more frequent power failures because the aging infrastructure isn’t being upgraded, especially now that the worldwide meltdown of the banking system is making investment financing scarce.

The best way to protect your family is to do some planning and set up an emergency power source now. If you live in a cold climate, the first priority is either a backup electrical generator and/or a heating system that can run without electricity. The generator option is usually sufficient for short emergencies of a day or two, but in extended and widespread outages, gasoline and diesel fuel become precious and rare commodities. In warmer climates, a generator is a necessity because refrigeration is the most pressing need.

A woodstove is a good non-electric heating and cooking option, provided you keep enough firewood on hand to fuel it during an emergency. Most natural gas or propane stoves and fireplaces can operate without electricity because they have either a continuous pilot flame or electronic ignition with battery backup. Before buying a gas appliance, make sure it has one of these features. A propane heater will go through a lot of fuel when running continuously, so if propane is your backup fuel, consider keeping an emergency supply on hand — during extended ice storms or blizzards, delivery trucks often can’t get through blocked roads.



Pellet stoves need electricity to run the fuel feed auger and fans, and outdoor boilers depend on it to operate  pumps that move the water to the house and back. As with conventional heating systems, a backup generator is needed to make either option functional.

Whatever your choice, make safety your highest priority. Fatalities during winter power failures are mostly due to breathing carbon monoxide gas released by temporary electrical, cooking, and heating equipment. Natural gas and propane cooking ranges shouldn’t be used as space heaters because of this. Kerosene heaters can be dangerous in confined spaces, so they are not a good emergency option. Charcoal grills or gas generators should never be used in an enclosed space such as a garage, or even a breezeway — and especially not in the house.

jon
9/19/2017 3:47:49 PM

To Robert's conversation on heating with a gas range, the reason they recommend against it is that there are no thermostatic controls on the stove or the oven when open. Thats number 1 and secondly you rarely use all 4 top burners and the oven in such a way it never shuts off. This amounts to approx 100,000 btu's/hour and that would be the same a venting a whole house hot air furnace directly into your house. That will kill you, carbon monoxide poisoning. It you do it do not use the oven and only one or two top burners and what ever you do, do not go to sleep with it on, you are playing with extreme danger. 40 year gas employee.


jon
9/19/2017 3:40:22 PM

To Robert's conversation on heating with a gas range, the reason they recommend against it is that there are no thermostatic controls on the stove or the oven when open. Thats number 1 and secondly you rarely use all 4 top burners and the oven in such a way it never shuts off. This amounts to approx 100,000 btu's/hour and that would be the same a venting a whole house hot air furnace directly into your house. That will kill you, carbon monoxide poisoning. It you do it do not use the oven and only one or two top burners and what ever you do, do not go to sleep with it on, you are playing with extreme danger. 40 year gas employee.


Mark Sneegas
12/15/2011 3:57:31 PM

True, but if you already own the tractor, you can buy the pto driven generator power-head much cheaper than the entire propane/nat-gas fueled stand-by generator.







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