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Posted Update 3 below  (See all my hurricane entries here.)

We have had way too much adventure around here (Orlando) recently. Three hurricanes in a six week period is pretty much enough for everyone for the next decade or so. At work, we joke about going around to all the "Florida - The Sunshine State" signs at the state welcome centers and changing them to read "Florida - We're Over It" instead. You really come to appreciate the small comforts of life when your bathroom fan has no power.

As with the previous hurricanes around here (Charley - hit, Frances - hit, Ivan - miss, Jeanne - hit), I have come across some new things. Much of this I have observed, other items were discussed with neighbors, and some others with co-workers.

As a recap, here are my posts on other hurricane lessons ...

... and now for some new stuff.

House Design - It is really simple. Houses constructed to current building codes survived the hurricanes with little or no damage. Hip style roofs are better than gable or flat. Roof tiles older than 8 or 10 years suffered varying degrees of damage - the older tiles were damaged more. Manufactured and mobile homes, especially older ones, were damaged more.

House Location - Houses located near water suffered more damage. Houses on the beach were damaged the most. Houses in older, more established neighborhoods, especially those with older trees, took hits not only from falling tress, but also from the subsequent horizontal flying debris. New neighborhoods had much less flying debris and less subsequent damage.

Spoiled Food - Some neighbors were away for the entire Hurricane Jeanne adventure. They returned late at night, ate dinner, and went to sleep. What they did not realize was that power had been out for 30 hours and had returned ten hours previously. That refreshingly cold food in their refrigerator and freezer was likely spoiled. Remember to ask neighbors who stayed about the duration of any power outages before trusting the refrigerated food.

Holes - This was particularly vexing to people who put up plywood for Charley (or Frances or Ivan), took it down, and wanted it back up for Jeanne. They found that they could not reuse the holes in the concrete for Tapcons because they were enlarged and the Tapcon would not grip. They had to drill new holes. This is understandable if you think about how a Tapcon is designed to work. Concrete anchors are intended to be a one-time-use system. They are to hold firmly once installed and should not be removed. People viewed them just like wood screws, which they are not. When you install a Tapcon, the threads bite into the concrete. This permanently deforms the brittle material. Since the next use will just grind away some more concrete, the hole becomes useless, unless you happened to have bought the next larger size of Tapcon. When I asked the builder of my house to sink some Tapcons a little more flush with a doorjamb, they refused since they did not want to strip out the hole. So what do you do with the holes? One solution is to use exterior caulk to fill them and then paint. Another is to use stucco patching mixture and then paint (probably best). Of course, if the hole happens to be located in a suitable position, you could actually make it larger and install a reusable shutter anchor system such as the PanelMate Storm Panel Anchoring System (details are here, here, and here).

Shutters - As mentioned previously, my thin interior plywood shutters warped after Hurricane Frances. I straightened them out by screwing 2x4s to the outside. Once they got wet from the storm, I left them up for two days (thankfully without rain) to dry before taking them down. I have painted some of them with exterior white paint to reduce water absorption.

If you are facing a time crunch, there is a priority sequence you should follow for installing shutters. Your decision depends on where the storm is coming from and which side of the eye you end up on. For all three hurricanes, we ended on the right (bad) side of the eye track. I will use Hurricanes Frances and Jeanne's almost identical tracks as an example. These storms approached from the southeast and the eye passed closest to our southwest. As the storm approached, winds started from the northeast. This is your first decision point. The winds will come from this direction, building strength, for a very long time. This is the time where the initial loose debris is picked up and blown along, so it is the best first direction to defend on your home. In my case, this required protecting the seven windows on the north and east side of our house. Only as the eyes approached did the winds swing around to the southeast and build to their strongest. This period was much shorter than the initial one, but it was much more intense, so it is your next priority. In our case, this added the sliding glass doors and bedroom windows under a sheltering porch, since the south side of our house has no windows. Optimally, you would like to protect everything, but sometimes you need to work in priority order or decide how to best use limited supplies.

Generator Purchase Decision - The money decision can be based on the cost of food you will lose based on the normal contents of your refrigerator and freezer space. This could amount to hundreds of dollars and may well make your purchase justified. The second is based on comfort, security, and reassurance. For example, warm food and cold drinks are wonderful to have. Do not underestimate the hassles involved with finding and maintaining an adequate supply of ice that will save only a portion of your food. (Coolers were sold out almost as fast as generators were.)

Generator Use - I talked about this first here. Small portable generators are not all-weather devices. You must be ready to protect it from the rain. If your porch is not sheltered enough, you should be able to build a plywood cover to shield it. Do not cover it completely since the generator and engine need airflow to stay cool. Carbon monoxide from a running generator can be a killer. We brought our power cables into the house via a window, but I then sealed the gaps using towels to keep engine exhaust gas and noise out. You should never run a generator inside your house or in an attached garage, even if the garage door is open. If you must run the generator out in front of your house, be ready with a very hefty chain and lock to secure it to your vehicle. (Generators became a hot target for thieves in Florida after the hurricanes.) Manufacturers generally specify run times for a single tank of gas at half load. Expect less than half of the stated run time at full load. Note that gas tanks get bigger with increased generator wattage. We used five gallons per day with our loads.

Generator Sizing - How big of a generator do you buy? When you are standing in line and are desperate, you buy whatever is available. If you have time and can plan your purchase, you need to think this through. Bigger is not necessarily better since it translates into burning more gas. Gasoline becomes a precious commodity during a disaster. Also, you will likely need to siphon and carry all those gallons of fuel for your supersized machine. We ran a 4000 watt generator and got power to everything we needed: one refrigerator, kitchen equipment (including an 1100 watt microwave and a coffee pot (vital!)), lights, ceiling fans, TV, DVD (our 14-month-old needs her Elmo), and miscellaneous stuff (baby monitors, XM satellite radios, etc.). Importantly, you must realize that you should not try to run all of that at the same time. (The generator loaded down noticeably when the microwave was used, but was not overloaded.) Generac has a useful generator sizing wizard here. As a point of comparison, most houses in the US have 200-ampere service. At 240 volts, this equates to roughly 48,000 watts of power. My Generac 4000XL 4000 watt generator is only 1/12 of the capacity of the standard electrical service.

Generator Features - Here are some good things to get on your generator if you have the choice.

  • Full capacity locking electrical outlets to provide secure mechanical connection while delivering maximum power
  • Low oil level shutdown - automatically shuts engine down when oil level drops too low
  • Low oil pressure shutdown - automatically shuts down engine if oil pressure drops too low
  • Automatic idle control - saves fuel by idling down engine when not in use
  • Automatic voltage regulation - maintains steady voltage for electronics
  • Automotive style oil filter to keep oil clean and prolong engine life
  • As quiet a muffler as possible
  • Fuel tank gauge
  • Foldable handle for compact storage
  • Wheels for easy movement

Powering the House - The attentive will notice that I mentioned running ceiling fans above. I didn't do this through creative rewiring, but through a simple process usually referred to as backfeeding. First, a caution: you need to know what you are doing with your home electrical system when you do this. Do not attempt to backfeed your home in ignorance. Now with that said, backfeeding is the process of powering your home from a generator through a stove or dryer connection. Done properly, it works great and can energize any load in your house. Of course, you are limited by the capacity of your generator, so do not expect to operate everything unless you have a humongous unit. My generator came with a four-prong locking plug for the 230-volt outlet that was protected by a 20-ampere breaker on the generator. Based on this 20A maximum, I went with type NM-B 12/3 indoor electrical wire with ground (4 wires: black (hot), red (hot), white (neutral), green (ground)). I would have preferred a larger wire to reduce the voltage drop, but all the NM-B 10/3 wire was sold out. Due to time constraints, I disconnected the dryer cord from the back of our clothes dryer and bolted the generator wire to the dryer cord terminal lugs. (Remember to use washers and lock washers for a secure fit.) I then heavily wrapped all connections with electrical tape and propped the assembly up where I could see it at the back of the dryer so I could keep an eye on it for overheating. With the generator cable ready, I did the following in order.

  • Open the main service disconnect to remove the house from the utility supply
  • Open all breakers on all power panels (we have two)
  • Plug in the generator cable at both ends
  • Start the generator
  • Close the dryer breaker (this provides generator power to the power panel)
  • Close individual service breakers
  • Test operation of house loads

I did not close any large load breakers. For our house, that included the outside heat pump unit, inside HVAC air handler, water heater, stove, dishwasher, garbage disposals, heat lamps, and kitchen refrigerator (we used our garage unit). You could tell who was powering their whole houses off their generators from the doorbell lights.

Update 1:  Let me say one more thing about backfeeding.  It can be dangerous (i.e. deadly, as in not breathing any more) if done wrong.  What I have described here relies on following the procedure for safety.  Do not screw up the procedure.  Better, do not follow it if you do not know what you are doing.  The best thing to do is to have a qualified electrician install a transfer switch and emergency power panel.

Update 2: When you are running your entire house from a generator, whether by backfeeding or via a transfer switch, you need to eliminate standby or parasitic loads.  These are the small current loads from equipment which is off, such as TVs, DVD players, VCRs, etc., as they wait for a remote control signal to awaken.  A good PC Magazine article is here.  I went around and turned off the entertainment center, unplugged all the small chargers, and unplugged everything we did not need from the outlets (like that clock radio in the spare bedroom).  These loads may add up to several hundred watts depending on what equipment you have and how it was designed.  Since this translates into gallons of gas hauled and used, you can do without the convenience for the duration.

Update 3: I wanted to bring some comments to this post up to the main item because they are important.  Some houses have outside power panels near the meters to control 230V power distribution.  I have one of these outside boxes and it houses my main service disconnect.  It would be possible for a desperate person to shut it under the misconception that they would be able to power their house from your generator.  In reality, I believe your generator would trip its output circuit breaker on high current when the neighborhood load is placed on it.  I would solve this issue by locking the outside panel once you open the main service disconnect, since mine has such a provision.  This requirement is not applicable if you use the recommended transfer switch method.  Also, once you make your backfeed cable connections, do not disconnect anything with the generator running since you may be exposed to energized conductors.

Posted on Wednesday, September 29, 2004 6:52 PM Home Ownership , & Etc. , Hurricane | Back to top

Comments on this post: Hurricane Jeanne Survival Lessons

# re: Hurricane Jeanne Survival Lessons
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Great article - We live in West Palm Beach and we had to deal with Frances and Jeanne and 8 days without power total. The first thing I bought after Frances had passed was a battery operated TV as being without TV during the storm really s...!.

I learned a lot from my neighbors how to cope in hot Florida without power (no wonder nobody wanted to live here before the invention of the AC). I am also considering buying a small generator in the future. I did not know that you can actually backfeed power before reading your article.

Your article it is very helpful and also fun to read! Thanks!!
Left by Martina on Oct 02, 2004 7:44 PM

# re: Hurricane Jeanne Survival Lessons
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Great article - We live in West Palm Beach and we had to deal with Frances and Jeanne and 8 days without power total. The first thing I bought after Frances had passed was a battery operated TV as being without TV during the storm really s...!.

I learned a lot from my neighbors how to cope in hot Florida without power (no wonder nobody wanted to live here before the invention of the AC). I am also considering buying a small generator in the future. I did not know that you can actually backfeed power before reading your article.

Your article it is very helpful and also fun to read! Thanks!!
Left by Martina on Oct 02, 2004 7:44 PM

# re: Hurricane Jeanne Survival Lessons
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Great blog!

However, you left out the other dangerous points concerning back feeding:

Despite the fact that back feeding is deadly to line men (voltage gets jacked UP at xformers), deperate people in desperate times will do anything:

Duct tape the main breakers OPEN.

If the generator is running, the plug's male prongs are hot. Never remove it from the outlet unless you've shut down the generator.

Let the generator cool before refueling.

It's not practical to run the generator 24/7. Use a small inverter off of the car battery to run small loads (TV, lights, etc.). Start car to recharge battery.

When running generator for fridge, set fridge as cold as possible and run probably 2 hours on, 4 hours off. Furthermore, before a hurricane strikes, freeze as many 2.5 gallon spring water containers that will fit into your freezer as possible. These provide 20 lbs of block ice (with handles) each. This ice can be placed into a cooler since a cooler is better insulated than most fridges. In addition, you can drink the water once it melts!
Left by Brian From NH on Oct 08, 2004 3:59 PM

# re: Hurricane Jeanne Survival Lessons
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Don't use caulk or exterior stucco patch.

Use Elastomeric Patching Compound. Stucco
patch will eventually leak even if its painted.

Caulk shrinks over time and allows water intrusion when it shrinks.

Elastomeric Patching Compound fixes bothe these problems. Most building and painting contractors use it to fix cracks in block walls

Kover Krack is one. The big home improvement stores don't carry it. You have to purchase it from a paint store like Colorwheel, Sherwin Williams etc..
Left by PJK on Dec 07, 2004 1:22 PM

# re: Hurricane Jeanne Survival Lessons
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Excellent overview of backfeeding through your dryer outlet. I plan to do this with my just-purchased Coleman 6250w generator. ($461 @ Home Depot and NO sales tax during 12-day tax holiday for hurricane supplies). One thing you failed to mention is that the twist-lock plug into your generator has four prongs (hence using 10/3 with ground), but that your 220/240 volt dryer outlet has only three. My owner's manual says to gang the neutral and ground wires at the load (dryer outlet) end, which I plan to do. Thanks very much for an extremely helpful article.
Left by Bill from Boca Raton, FL on Jun 05, 2005 1:48 AM

# re: Hurricane Jeanne Survival Lessons
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I should point out that the user's manual ALSO says to properly ground the generator using the grounding lug provided. Since my home has copper plumbing, I plan to ground the generator to the outside hose connection using a hose clamp, after scraping the copper shiny with a utility knife at the point of connection. (You could also use a 6-foot copper grounding rod driven into the ground specifically for this purpose.) Operating your generator without proper grounding is dangerous!
Left by Bill from Boca Raton, FL on Jun 05, 2005 2:11 AM

# re: Hurricane Jeanne Survival Lessons
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People say "don't do it" WRT backfeeding because the vast majority of
people are electrically stupid. Just look at the 5th-grade-level
instructions you get with new light switches.

I have a four-wire dryer cord, so it was a direct match to the four
wires from the generator (line-line-neutral-ground) and its four prong
locking plug. My generator was on the back porch and the cable ran
into the laundry. I disconnected it from the back of the dryer and
used a small machine bolt and nut with washers to ensure a tight
mechanical connection between the two cables. The bolt carried no
electrical load. I bent the ends of the cable into hooks with a pair
of needlenose pliers before bolting. I wrapped the connections with
layers of electrical tape and propped it up behind the dryer so I
could see it at all times.

Effectively, my generator was grounded via the house ground, avoiding current loops that a local ground could have created.
Left by Mark on Jun 05, 2005 8:33 AM

# re: Hurricane Jeanne Survival Lessons
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Regarding Mark's comment on a local ground causing a current loop: My 4-prong plug into my generator will be wired using 10-3 with ground. At the dryer end, the neutral and ground wires will both be wired to the ground prong on the 3-prong dryer plug I bought. I'm fairly certain I don't even need yet ANOTHER ground from the generator frame to a local ground, but since the manual says to ground the frame, I'm going to do what it says, since doing so won't cause a safety hazard - just a possible source of hum in any audio system I use - which I don't plan to do, anyway, other than a TV. If anyone sees a flaw in this logic, I'd sure appreciate hearing about it. As for Mike's question, it sounds to me like a good solution (a 4-wire connection at both ends). Just make sure the power is OFF (the breaker is OPEN) to the dryer outlet before you do the connection, of course!
Left by Bill from Boca Raton FL on Jun 05, 2005 10:55 PM

# re: Hurricane Jeanne Survival Lessons
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Glad I use the Generac "Extend-A-Panel" cords, backfeeding scares me. If done right, of course, the danger is lessened, but the specialized "genset cords" and trandfer switches are the way to go, if you ask me.

The electrician who helped us with our office generator configuration recommended using a separate NON-BUILDING ground. I think he felt that, since our office is the only one that remains open during hurricane times (by necessity, not choice!), any problems through the building's ground path would be our "fault" if any problems came to light during or after the fact.
Left by Bob on Jun 16, 2005 2:21 PM

# re: Hurricane Jeanne Survival Lessons
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The most important factor, if you ask me, is to make sure the 230v breakers (nearest the power meter) are in the OFF position!!!! If they are on, and you backfeed power to your house, you are effectively energizing everyone in your neighborhood. While you will certainly have a circuit breaker on your genset trip, that momentary current may be enough to injure or kill someone who is handling open wires outside your area. Again, iof you don't have a full clue or you are only semi-smart on the subject of backfeeding power to yuor house, you should just leave well enough alone and hire an electrician to come hardwire your genset into your house.

Think about it.

Left by Dennis on Aug 27, 2005 8:13 AM

# re: Hurricane Jeanne Survival Lessons
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Please, DO NOT BACKFEED UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES. It is 100% illegal and 100% dangerous no matter how "careful" you think you are. You are putting your family, your neighbors, and the brave linemen who are there to help you by restoring your power, at risk for their lives. Either run extension cords or install a UL approved transfer switch. These are the only safe methods of using a generator. To do otherwise is irresponsible and will cost lives. I am a broadcast engineer who has considerable experience with both generators and hurricanes. I have installed many transfer panels for friends and family, not to mention the large generators we use at transmitter and studio locations. Human life is too precious to take the chance backfeeding involves. PLEASE DON'T DO IT! It is a recipe for disaster. Also, please drive a ground rod for your generator. It only takes a few minutes in most cases and can save your life if your generator develops a fault. Attach the generator to the ground rod BEFORE you start it and do not detach it until AFTER you have shut it down. Thanks for getting this far, I'm passionate about generator safety.

Left by Phil on Sep 08, 2005 2:10 PM

# re: Hurricane Jeanne Survival Lessons
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Phil: You may be a broadcast engineer, but you need to be able to acknowledge that other people do have electrical engineering experience -- practical experience at that. That fact that you sound like you have done many illegal and not-code-inspected electrical modifications to the homes of friends and family makes me think that your "broadcast engineer" experience has made you think you have more knowledge than you should. Are you a licensed electrician in your state?
Left by Mark on Sep 08, 2005 3:51 PM

# re: Hurricane Jeanne Survival Lessons
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If I came off as arrogant in my previous post, please forgive me, that was not my intention at all. I do, however, have a lot of experience with generators and electrical installations. I have overseen the installation of generators ranging from 2kW to 300 kW. Generators are wonderful machines but they have the potential to be deadly. In my mind, the first consideration in any electrical installation has to be safety. Backfeeding is not safe. There are too many opportunities for things to go wrong. Things that may be out of the control of the homeowner. I refer you to an earlier post from your site that states:

"I have one of these outside boxes and it houses my main service disconnect. It would be possible for a desperate person to shut it under the misconception that they would be able to power their house from your generator."

With a properly installed UL approved transfer switch, that would not be possible. They could flip your main breaker all day and all they would get is tired.

From another post on this site:

"It seems that the latest victim is a Georgia electric utility worker who was apparently electrocuted by a generator which was improperly connected."

All the "safe" backfeeding in the world is not worth this man's life.

No, I am not a licensed electrician. But, I don't charge for the work I do for friends and family, and yes, my work has been inspected by the city and found to be in compliance with code. As a federally licensed "broadcast engineer" I routinely repair and maintain high power transmitters operating at 15kV and above and feel more than qualified to comment on the danger of backfeeding.
Left by Phil on Sep 09, 2005 2:48 PM

# re: Hurricane Jeanne Survival Lessons
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Great article...the best "lessons learned" for my prolonged power outage with Frances, Jeanne and Wilma was to buy the quietest (some HOA's now have restrictions and jealous neighbors) and the smallest necessary to run the critical appliances (fuel was very difficult to obtain in West Palm Beach). So I purchased the Honda 2000.....extremely quiet....actually quieter then my dish washer.
Left by Jerry on Apr 05, 2006 11:57 AM

# re: Hurricane Jeanne Survival Lessons
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Your blog is full of really great, informative information. I'm really interested in Jerry's comment (dated 4/5/2006) about the Honda 2000. How could I find out where he purchased this generator and the cost???? I don't want to "set the world (or house) on fire", as the song goes. I just want a little lamp, my refer, small black & white t.v. and a cell phone charger. I call this my "entertainment area." These, along with flashlights and a grill (with plenty of propane) kept me going x10 days during Wilma. Any suggestions re price and size?
Left by Sue T. on Apr 30, 2006 11:49 AM

# re: Hurricane Jeanne Survival Lessons
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@Sue T: I would start by putting "honda generator 2000" into Google and see what come up. I found several promising ones, but it looks like you are paying a premium ($874!) for their design. That is very expensive, since you could buy a unit with a good Briggs & Stratton engine for <$700 that drives a 7000W generator.

I would just try online and order as soon as you can.
Left by Mark on Apr 30, 2006 1:31 PM

# re: Hurricane Jeanne Survival Lessons
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Mark, I have been reading all of your hurricane writings for the last couple years and have learned a lot of good info. Thank you. If anyone is interested in learning more about generators I highly recommend the following thread:
Left by Phil G. on May 09, 2006 6:59 PM

# re: Hurricane Jeanne Survival Lessons
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Check this site for useful generator information...
Left by Robert on Jun 14, 2006 6:35 PM

# re: Hurricane Jeanne Survival Lessons
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Generator back feeding is illegal and very dangerous to the lineman. There are safe ways to do it but, you better know what's up with electricity before you go that route. Cutting off the main is NOT enough.

These are just instructions from my own professional field experience. I don't condone not using a proper transfer switch but, if your going to do it (an most of you DO)… you might as well do it as safely as possible.

First things first, go ahead and make you a dead-man’s cord with the proper 20, 30, 50 amp male twist lock on one end and either a 3 or 4 dryer (30amp) or stove (50amp) male plug on the other end. Remember, it didn’t get that name just because it sounds neat! You have just created a cord with two exposed ends. Don’t get stupid and plug one end in while the power is on.

I’m going to assume that you know enough about electrical to understand what I getting ready to say. If the next few statements read as Western Latin…STOP and get an electrician to install you a transfer switch.
Let’s take a minute to discuss 3 wire or 4 wire. If your house is (newer) 4 wire use a 4 wire generator if your house is an older 3 wire system then it doesn’t really matter which generator you use. What does matter is that you test you keep your neutral separate from the grounding system on the house. Make sure that your grounding system is working properly. A visual inspection is not enough. You grounding rod maybe decomposed in the ground where you can’t see. If you house is not grounded properly then any transit voltages or back feeding from faulty appliances or conductive loads will travel out on the neutral back to the pole. At this point you might was well just have shot the line worker…same effect is possible.
Now for the main. There has been lots of controversy whether or not the “off position” of the conductors in the breaker actually separate for enough to create safe isolation from the grid. Don’t chance it!!!! Pop the breaker out of the buss and set it aside. Now you know that you’re separated from the grid.

Let review,
Check you’re wiring system, 3 wire, 4 wire.
Make the appropriate cord and stay with your wiring type.
Check/replace your ground rod.
Make sure your ground and neutral are bonded at the service entrance.
Pop that main out of the buss. Don’t get let it be “off”
You can plug in your dead man and start your generator.
Left by Nick on Jul 30, 2006 6:13 PM

# re: Hurricane Jeanne Survival Lessons
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Anyone have experience with the APSI Power Pal?
Left by fang on Aug 02, 2006 9:29 PM

# re: Hurricane Jeanne Survival Lessons
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I am guessing that no one has of yet gained any experience with the APSI Power Pal. I was really interested in purchasing it because the benefits of having a generator inside, minus the use of gas sounds awesome but as they say, "Sometimes when it sounds to be too good to be true, most likely, it's not. This blog is very helpful and everyone seems so informed as well as becoming informed so any experience or feedback you can provide for the APSI will be appreciated.
Left by Natasha on Jun 21, 2007 8:30 AM

# re: Hurricane Jeanne Survival Lessons
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I bought one here in Houston for Ike. Its not a generator. Its like 1 but its a power inverter that runs off a deep cycle battery. I paid 499 + 129 for the deep cycle marine battery. its work the buy. It runs my fridge for about 6-8 hours then I take the battery and start my car for about 30 minutes and then run it for another 6-8 hours. It did power mi microwave as well.

We had a 2300 watt gasoline generator and that would not power the Microwave. The power pal did power the microwave. I did find a 25kw generator that is diesel powered and am going to purchase it from Over seas. I will power my whole house and ac. I would rather store a 55 gallon drum of diesel than gas.


Its worth the $, just dont go and spend more that 500 + teh mattery for it.
Left by Josh on Sep 22, 2008 1:03 PM

# re: Hurricane Jeanne Survival Lessons
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So true, being unprepared is the worst! We had to go through the aftermath of hurricane Katrina inside a converted school bus, NOT FUN!. thanks for the guide, I hope plenty people see it.
Left by Mendel Potok on Aug 27, 2010 10:11 AM

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