Hurricanes!

Back in 1995, a little Category 1 storm named Erin thumped FL, and gave me a new healthy respect for even the smallest of storms.  The red square near the center of the picture is where I lived.  We had 18,000 homes in our area without power.  My neighborhood didn't get power restored until 3 days later.  Subsequent storms have knocked out power for much longer, but those were bigger storms.  Not many were worried about a little Cat 1 storm, especially since it was hitting South of us.  I didn't even board up some of the windows.  I hope these pictures are an eye opener for you too.  Just imagine if this was a Category 2 or 3 storm...

 

 

 

This China Berry was one of the largest trees on the island.  It split into 3 pieces.  One to the left, one to the right, one straight back.  Look closely on the tree and you'll see me starting the long process of chopping it up.  Took weeks to finally get it all sliced up.

The tree just touched the house, and the leaves peppered the new conversion van in the driveway.  That's a 1/4 acre lot with tree overflowing in 3 directions.

The maple tree in front of my house at the other corner took a lot of damage too.  It never recovered and had to be removed too.

Turns out China Berry trees only have surface roots.  All the rain softened up the soil, and the wind did the rest.

 

 

Generators

 

After that little learning experience, I bought a generator.  3 days without power sucks!  I swore I'd never be without power again.  In a matter of hours, the contents of the refrigerator and freezer were gone.  More garbage than will fit in the garbage cans, and garbage pickup didn't show up for a while.  The replacement cost of food alone was enough to pay for the cost of an inexpensive generator.  The heat and humidity were terrible the day after the storm.  No way to get away from it.  I finally went and stayed at my father's house in the nearby town.  He didn't have any damage and still had power.

I added wheels to this generator, and it worked quite well.  It had a 5 gallon gas tank and put out 4000 Watts continuous, enough to run most anything in my home except for the central air.  The room on the back of my house had an auxiliary room A/C, and this generator would run that, the TV, lights, a fan, etc.  The downside is a cheap generator is NOISY.  Can't stress that enough.  Also, no amount of upgraded exhaust will make it quiet.  I spent $70 on a upgraded muffler, and only succeeded in changing the sound.  It was more tolerable, but still VERY noisy.  The exhaust is only 1/3 of the noise source.  The intake and mechanicals are also producers of noise.  This type of generator must run at a constant high RPM to maintain the 60 Hz frequency (same as your home outlets).  It also gobbles gas.

I no longer have this generator, I bought a quiet Yamaha 2400 Watt inverter type generator.  It produces clean power without being RPM regulated.  The generator can produce enough power at idle to run a 5000 BTU air conditioner.  As the load increases, so does the RPMs.  Consequently, these type of generators sip gasoline.  It will run all night on the 1.5 gallon tank.  Also, it was designed to be quiet, so it can run all night without disturbing neighbors.

 

The Yamaha 2400 has about the same noise level as the famous Honda 2KW generators.  But this one has enough power to run a rooftop RV A/C unit by itself.  Like the Hondas, this one can be bridged with another like generator to double the output.  This one is still light enough for me to lift and move around, but I will be adding wheels to it shortly.  The plan is to roll it onto the patio and use 12 gauge extension cords to run a small window A/C, the refrigerator, and maybe a light/fan/TV.  We'll have to see how the current draw goes.

 

 

I started out by putting the generator outside.  Many people have died from carbon monoxide poisoning from having one in the house or garage.  What you can't see is a large fan blowing the exhaust gases away from the garage.

To measure current with a clamp-on type meter, you must isolate one wire, the black or white.  If you put the clamp around all 3 wires the flow in/out is balanced, and you won't see any current flow.  As you can tell, this is a home brew item and easy to make.

I hooked up the meter and turned on the 5000 BTU A/C unit.  This tiny A/C pulls over 18 AMPS starting current!  My generator momentarily picked up RPMs, then dropped back to an idle.

The running current is just below 5 Amps, just as stated on the label.

With the compressor off, and blower on high, it draws a measly 0.2 Amps.

Using a digital IR meter, I measured the ambient temperature in my garage at 83 degrees.

The condenser coils measured 124.5 degrees.

The output air was 60 degrees and dropping.  That's better than a 20 degree delta.  Oh, this will keep 1 room nice during an outage.  Again, the generator runs at idle once the compressor has started.

I had to repair the generator when it first arrived.  The exhaust port didn't line up with the hole in the case.  It had apparently been dropped in shipment.  I took it all apart, and straightened the motor mounts.  I could have returned it, but that would have taken weeks to sort out.  The plastic no longer melts since the exhaust is now in alignment. 

If you're going to buy a generator, these two simple tools can give you an idea of what you will/won't be able to run all at once, or various combinations.  Make a log of running & starting currents.  The breakout plug can be made for a few bucks, the meter was purchased at Harbor Freight on sale for all of $9!

 

Preparations

 

Taped windows.  Who was the wizard that first thought this up?  Why do people still do this?  I even found a newspaper who had suggested this as a good idea on their website.  I'll make a deal with anyone who'll take me up on it.  You stand behind your taped window, I'll throw a baseball at it and we'll see how good that works.  You can throw a baseball at my shutters in return.  I used 3/4" plywood at my last house.  Okay, maybe a baseball isn't real world enough.  How about a grapefruit flying at over 100 MPH?  My lawn was littered with them after hurricane Erin.  The only thing tape does is gives a false sense of security, and leaves gooey residue when removed. 

Use shutters.  Buy 'em, or build 'em.  If they won't hold up to a baseball, don't waste your time.  PVC shutters look like a nice product, but they are brittle, and shatter when they take a hard impact.  Shutters are so important that all new homes being sold in Florida now are required to have them.

Garage doors will fail early during a storm if not beefed up.  The newer ones now meet a Dade County code for strength.  The have much more internal cross bracing, bigger hinges, and the tracks are secured better to the frames.  At my last house, the doors were constructed of a very thin fiberglass material.  The entire door didn't weigh as much as a single panel on my current garage door.  There is a downside.  With a door this heavy, it takes massive springs.  During one of the hurricanes, one of the two springs let go, twisting the door in the rails, causing it to bind.  It took everything I had to manually lift one side of the door and put a 2x4 under it so I could get my Jeep out of the garage.  Rewinding one of these springs isn't a DIY type job.  One mistake, it can take your head off.  So what would you do if your spring failed?  I'd now use my come-along and pull that side with it instead of using brute strength.  I could have easily been hurt.  More injuries occur after the storm than during it.

Some things in the works.  I'm adding a 12V LED lighting system throughout the house.  This will be hidden when not in use, and will be completely automatic.  I discovered my house was VERY dark with the shutters in place and the power off, even during the brightest part of the day.  LEDs use very little power, an important factor when running on backup batteries.  I'm also going to try powering the garage door opener off an UPS unit.  Not sure if it will take the load, but worth a try.

Trim those trees.  If you don't, mother nature will.  If it can fall on your house, it certainly might.  I no longer plant significant sized trees near the house.  I just removed a Maple tree this week as it was dangerously near the patio.  I'll be planting a couple of citrus trees, further away.  I was impressed by the number of citizens with chainsaws that showed up to clear their streets after storms.  Unlike "other" States, Florida citizens fend for themselves very well.  Shame on those who expect the Government to bail them out during a crisis.  Plan ahead, take action, and you won't be a victim.

 

 

Last updated 05/23/06    All rights reserved.