How long could your house run without grid power today?


Old 11-12-12, 06:30 PM
Join Date: Nov 2011
Location: USA
Posts: 12
During Hurricane Irene (August), roads disappeared, along with power, phone and internet poles and many bridges here. I ran my house with a $400, 3000-watt dirty power generator for five days before its carburetor clogged up and needed repair. We had extension cords running up and down the stairs and throughout the house. We made daily trips to the pond across the road to get water to flush the toilets. A port-a-pottie from the camper made us able to get by with flushing the toilets only a few times a day. We used bottled water for drinking and have 100 gallons of tap water in old milk jugs in the basement for washing during outages. We ran computers and a little bit of TV through inverters and storage batteries that we use when camping. I had limited internet access via an air card hooked up to an antenna that I later learned was getting its signal from a tower on top of a ski area 18 miles away (I have a home business, and limited cell service here, so periodically I drove my car elsewhere to get cell service to stay in touch with my clients to a limited degree). A few hours after my generator stalled, power was restored, fortunately.

Now that I have a larger, more reliable generator hooked up via an interlock kit, we could go as long as we could get gas (cold water only, and laundromats for washing clothes). I now have a large roof mount antenna that is the size of a TV antenna and an amplifier for cell and internet service. That may sound paranoid, but I can't make a living without phone, internet and power. That assumes that the cell towers are working during an emergency, of course.

Assuming we were completely cut off from civilization, with the 40 gallons of gasoline we have on hand, we could probably last a week or 10 days if we really rationed the generator time.

After that, it would be back to the 1800s. Assuming its winter, cold/frozen food would be stored on the porch or outside in a cooler. Our woodstove would provide heat, and we have enough wood on hand to last a couple of months. Wed first use our 100 gallons of stored water, and then melt snow for water.

In summer, after we ran out of gas, it would actually be more difficult, because our food would go bad without the cold weather - natural refrigeration pretty fast.

During Irene, since we had refrigeration, we found we missed running water the most. Water and refrigeration seem to be what we depend on.

Maybe here in Vermont were set up better for an emergency like this (plus we have a camper, which provides some survival gear), but not because we plan it that way. We have things like woodstoves mostly for the fun of it, not because of their practicality. I think its easier to weather an emergency in a rural area than in a city. The lack of population density actually makes it easier than what NYC and NJ have been going through.
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Old 11-12-12, 07:16 PM
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Good call Mike ! Great thread. I literally just spent the last hour drooling over the Lister engine. Awesome stuff
Old 11-13-12, 04:58 AM
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Join Date: Jan 2012
Location: Canada
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I still need to address my sump pump setup.
This is still my concerns if our power goes out during a storm.
I did manage to cut the pits usage down by more than half by fixing the existing eaves . When I get around to extending the side porch ones, I should be able to reduce that a bit more.
Old 11-13-12, 07:50 AM
Join Date: Dec 2005
Location: USA
Posts: 3,188

I bought a 6kw generator. As long as fuel is available I could probably live on it indeinitely (not that I would want to ).

I have 2 sump pumps in my basement. I've been fortunate that when we've lost power it has been relatively dry and they weren't needed. With a generator I could power one of them to keep the water out of the basement. I wouldn't go the battery/invertor route. I think it's too inefficient. It would be better to go with a battery operated sump. Unfortunately they are limited to how long they can operate before the battery dies.

If you are on city water you can probably run an eductor style pump as a backup but that's out if you have a well and may be cost prohibitive if your water is expensive,

My plan is to simply dedicate a generator circuit if necessary.
Old 11-13-12, 07:55 AM
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I'm on a well, so ya no go with that idea.
I had a couple ideas I had raised in a thread I created regarding my sump pit (was looking for backup solutions). The low power siphon design I had posted in there is something I'm going to revisit if time ever permits.
Old 12-13-12, 10:27 AM
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Join Date: Sep 2005
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I re-read this thread after going about a week without power after Sandy. The one lesson I learned was that you'd better have enough fuel to last at least 4-5 days of whatever generator usage you plan on doing. On day 4 without power, I was on line for about 3 hours for gas for the generator. Not too bad, the days before people were waiting for 6-8 hours. Not something I'd like to do again.

I also learned that it's difficult (impossible?) to siphon gas from newer vehicles, including my '98 4-Runner.
Old 12-13-12, 10:36 AM
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Join Date: Jan 2012
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I also learned that it's difficult (impossible?) to siphon gas from newer vehicles, including my '98 4-Runner.
Ya, not easy to siphon.
In a real pinch, remove the fuel line from the fuel rail and run it to your gas can. Turn the ignition and she'll spit fuel. Not a good idea, but it'll work. Alternatively, it's going under the car and disconnecting the fuel line at the exit of the tank.
Some vehicles might require you to pull the fuel pump and siphon from there.
Takes a bit of effort either way and does require some basic knowledge.
Old 12-13-12, 04:49 PM
Join Date: Aug 2009
Location: USA
Posts: 4,941
I picked up 2 - 5 gallon gasoline cans and a tri-fuel generator because of Sandy. I have yet to fully test it out on all fuels. It will be awhile before I have a natural gas hook available for it. But it will come and then I won't have to worry about it.

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