Showing posts with label alternative energy. Show all posts
Showing posts with label alternative energy. Show all posts

Monday, December 29, 2014

Open Lines Friday Continued: Thoughts on Non Electric Heating Sources

Meister asked "Heating strategies for the winter. Solar/Kerosene/Gas/wood and their potential." and I am ashamed to say it just popped back into my mind to write the post. Anyway here we are. I will discuss the pro's and cons of possible non electric heating methods.

-Wood. This has a lot going for it. If you have the infrastructure ie a stove or fireplace getting into it is pretty affordable. Cut or buy some wood, stack it up, toss a tarp over it and your alternate heating plan is good. If you are in a place where wood is readily available your fuel supply is right there. Since wood is natural and renewable it is really the only long term heating option available. The obvious downside is for it to work as a fuel source beyond whatever you've stored more wood will need to be cut or acquired. Easy to do in some areas like the PNW and South but harder to do in the South West and flat crop covered mid west. Another downside is that if you do not have the infrastructure it is hard to come up with an affordable small scale solution. You can do the barrel stove thing but, aside from them burning through, there are still problems. Wood won't work well for an apartment or a rental house situation. Also wood heating requires some effort and modest physical capabilities.

-Kerosene. A good option. Lots of folks I know use kerosene heaters to supplement electric or wood heat and avoid unpredictable (and large in winter) heating bills. Get a heater or two, a couple 5 gallon jugs of kero and you are good to go. A decent heater with a fair bit of fuel can be had for $300-400 all in so its probably the most budget conscious option. Can be used in a variety of environments. Kerosene is also compact which is handy in some situations as well as portable and divisible. I could buy/ borrow a gallon of kero from somebody. Downsides- Flamable and there are some modest concessions that need to be taken when using it. Get a carbon monoxide detector and a smoke alarm, plus as a general rule you need ventilation so crack a window a tiny bit or something. Also Kerosene has been climbing in price and is, at least in my observation, falling out of common use. Maybe it is hazmat rules or that it is getting less popular but I'm not seeing kerosene in places it was sold when I was a kid, little hardware stores and the like.

-Propane. Propane is really useful. Many people heat their homes with propane all the time. Also as Pastor Joe Fox noted propane is 'the dirty little secret of living off grid.' Propane is easy to use and store. It is widely available in the little 5 gallon cylinders and for larger amounts via delivery. Propane is reasonably priced. Propane is scalable with the little 'Mr Buddy' heaters all the way to whole home systems. Downsides. Propane is a gas and had rather demanding storage requirements. Once we get to the larger tanks it is difficult to impossible for a normal guy with normal stuff to safely move full propane tanks. Propane is difficult to move as anything other than a small- medium sized tank. It would be difficult to impossible for a neighbor to loan/ sell me a gallon of propane.

This is the real downside of propane. Say my area was affected by an unusual winter emergency that dropped the power for a prolonged period. Some of the neighbors and I team up and get orders from people and cash to pay for the stuff. Three towns over we are getting the stuff. The propane place is only filling cylinders as they are out of them to sell. We come back with just the 3 BBQ cylinders we came with, not  the ten we would like.With liquid fuels in an emergency you could use any containers, at least in the short term but you can't really redneck up a way to transport/ store propane.

-Solar. Admittedly I am not too knowledgable about this area so please go easy with flaming me on any corrections.

Solar can be done in 3 general ways. First you could theoretically get a whole bunch of solar panels, use them to charge batteries and run 12 volt heaters or something. This options does not seem to make a ton of sense or be particularly popular. Also folks can use active, but not electric, solar to heat water and thus warm their homes. Generally speaking these plans are probably not the best way to go for a bunch of reasons. You would need a whole bunch of solar panels and a room full of batteries to be very effective in heating your home which would not be at all cost effective.

The last solar option is passive solar. This is an awesome option IF YOU ARE BUILDING A HOME WITH IT IN MIND. Huge south facing windows, lots of thermal mass, open floor plan with all the right convection in all the right places. Many homes are heated predominantly with passive solar. Obviously this alone will not suffice in Alaska or Maine but it is a darn good start. The issue with passive solar is it's not cost effective to impliment in an already existing home built along normal lines. In other words unless you build a place with passive solar in mind it isn't really a viable option.

Some blend of these methods and electric heating is the way to go. Depending on your situation I would look hard at wood, kerosene and propane in that order. Remember you want 2-3 ways to heat your home. Think PACE.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

A Few Months Without Power In Your Current Location

Pastor Joe Fox put out another excellent video. It has a lot of interesting thoughts on his last 2 years of living off grid. Also when he is honest and mentions propane being the 'dirty little off grid secret' as well as lamp oil, batteries and of course gas. Anyway that is not the point that caught my interest. Pastor Joe said something to the effect of " some point the grid is going to go down, most of you are not going to 'bug out' but will instead stay where you are. Think of the things you would want to live for a few months without power." That stuck in my head. Of course I got to thinking.

-Another 55 gallon water barrel for storage along with 3 more 5 gallon jugs.

-A rainwater cachment system.

-Three more 5 gallon propane tanks. Also a couple dozen of those little green propane tanks.

-More 92 octane non ethanol gas. (I plan to fill up all my cans with it when I rotate them.) Another 6 5 gal cans would be perfect.

-10 gallons of kerosene.

-A case of oil for various lubrication needs.

-Lots of lamp wicks.

-Ancillary chainsaw stuff. Lots of 2 cycle and bar oil, spark plugs, a spare chain, sharpening stuff, chaps.

-About a hundred dollars worth of eneloop rechargeable batteries (in addition to what we have now).

-The only real expensive item (though the total cost is adding up fast) is a Goal Zero 32201 Boulder 30M Solar Panel  and a more robust battery setup probably also by Goal 0. Something like the Goal Zero 23000 Yeti 400 Solar Generator

-Maybe a serious antenna set up for my Grundig 350dl. If I was relying on it for regular news and needed to reach further, more consistently, it would be handy.

-A better grinder.

-A dutch oven. 

-Condiments, particularly stuff that goes with bread, rice and beans. Stuff like cheese and butter would be great also.

-100 pounds more each salt, sugar, and oatmeal.

-200 pounds each of rice, beans and wheat.

-3 cases each of chili, stew and peanut butter.

-About a dozen cases of canned fruit.

-Several things of both kid and adult multi vitamins.

-250 pounds of chicken food. A metal trash can or two to store it in.

-250 pounds of dog food. A metal trash can or two to store it in.

-A full spool of 550 cord.

-Various structural repair stuff: screen material to fix screens, a couple (above what I've got) rolls of clear plastic, a couple (above what I've got) 10x10 tarps, a couple packages each of small and large zip ties, 3 rolls of duct tape/ 100 mph tape, 4 rolls of generic/ bailing wire, 5 pounds of various screws, 10 pounds of various nails. If I could conveniently find the space about 4 sheets 4x8ish of 3/4 inch ply wood would be nice.

-Various shoe/ clothing repair stuff: Some shoe laces, a couple dozen spools off various thread, 2x shoe glue, some mink oil,  a few yards each of cotton, denim and flannel.

-A pick axe.

-A spare shovel.

-Another machete.

-Another knife sharpening set.

-A gallon of mineral oil.

-Chimney cleaning stuff.

-4x FRS radios.

-More various hygiene stuff. Soap, shampoo, conditioner, feminine stuff, etc

-A few boxes of band aid's. They are so handy and my kids love em.

-A stash of antibiotics.

-You could note a lack of gun and ammo stuff in this post. Don't get me wrong in this situation I would like to have 500 rounds of .38 special, 500 rounds of .308, a thousand rounds of 12 gauge split between #4, buckshot and slugs plus another case each of 9mm and 5.56. That being said I am sitting on a pretty decent stash of ammo. Honestly aside from .22lr and small game shot for hunting and just maybe a rifle round or two for a deer or hog I do not see going through much ammo. Sure fights could happen but if I dip a notable fraction into my stores things are going very badly and I am realistic enough to know a guy is only likely to win so many fights, especially when medical attention is lacking.

-As to guns I would really like to have an AR pistol with a 10.5-11in barrel. About when the grid dropped a person might just say to heck with it and put a real buttstock on one but the sig arm brace's largely negate the issue. The concept of use would be as a bedside CQB gun and general PDW.

Beyond that we are pretty OK in terms of firepower. We could trade/ loan/ give some guns out if needed and still exceed our core needs by a good margin. 

There are probably some other things but none of them really come to mind. I am going to weigh this exercise very heavily in my 2015 New Years Resolutions.


Saturday, September 13, 2014

Chainsaw Bleg

So I need a chain saw. The concept of use is to do occasional yard stuff, cut firewood in modest quantities (say a couple cords a year) and potentially be used to clear down trees after storms. I am not looking to get one with gold plated diamonds but do not want some crap made brand as my patience and mechanical skills are not up for it.

Since it is almost a sure thing I will use it out in the woods at some point electric is out.

The folks I know who are knowledgable about these things recommend Stihl. I have to dig into model numbers and such to see what makes sense for me.

Any thoughts or recommendations you might have are welcome. 

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Free Firewood and 9/11 Jitters

Yesterday was interesting. Wifey saw an add for free firewood. Needless to say I called. It turned out to be some folks clearing a big downed oak limb for cash. They did not want or need the wood. I ended up pitching in with their clearing job and did about half the work. A buddy and I could have done it in an hour and a half. Dad, son, Momma and I did it in 3 and change. They were nice people but not excessively hard or motivated workers. Anyway after 3 hours I ended up with a bunch of firewood. Suspect it will be over a cord once it's all cut to length and split. Getting off work and spending another 3 hours doing hard manual labor was definitely not my plan but we got a lot of wood for free. Got my next couple weeks evening and weekend work ready to go, in a big ole pile in the yard.

Between all the worlds problems and the 13th 9/11 anniversary coming up we decided to relook our preps and up our level of readiness a bit. Pulled some cash out of the bank, topped off our vehicles today, picked up some various sundries in case we are stuck at home for a bit, etc. I wanted to get a couple more water cans, refill the BBQ propane tank and get another tank but that didn't get accomplished.

Are you doing anything different based on tomorrow being 9/11?

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Pre Power Outage Test, Drill and Checklist Sorely Needed

We get power outages down here when it rains heavily, especially for a few days in a row. Usually it is an hour or two. It has been raining real hard and flooding south of here so my threat meter was pegged a bit higher. If power dropped it could be widespread and maybe even last awhile. 

The weather down here has been nuts for the last few days. It's like a monsoon or something. Tons of rain and thunder/ lightning all over the place. We had a couple blips in the power. It seemed prudent to take some steps. Here is what I did. Not saying this was really thought out or perfect by any means, it is just what I decided to do between aproximately noon and two.

-Started the dryer to finish the load that had been sitting in the washer from this morning. (Incidentally I was trying to get ahead on chores so I'd already washed clothes and ran the dishwasher.)

-Went to the store for a couple bags of ice. One to toss in the freezer and another for the cooler.

Incidentally and almost surely due to the power brown out's the small stores card reading machine was down. Between the ice and some snacks it was $9 something. The guy was apologetic and I paid cash. That left $143 in my pocket. I considered hitting the ATM but didn't bother. We keep cash at home so it wasn't a concern. If a hurricane was coming I'd grab more cash, mostly so we could spot friends or co workers some if needed. Left the store.

-Plugged in the power supply.

-Plugged in Goal 0 battery powered lantern I'm testing.

(More on both of these later after I do some more testing)

-Nuked some leftovers for lunch.

-Filled up the bathtub water bladder. These things are pretty cool and can really work for semi predictable events like hurricanes or power outage. I really need to save a bit of coin then swing by Titan Ready Water to get a couple of 55 gallon barrels or even better one of their hydrant storage systems to boost out water storage to more acceptable levels.

-Took a shower.

After that I was pretty much done with everything I wanted to do. The storms are supposed to continue through early tomorrow. I don't really care much as I'm prepared for what is expected.

Again note that I'm not saying these actions were perfect. I had a realization that we might lose power then acted.In fact I'm open to your thoughts on what I could do better. My realization is that it would be awful handy to figure out what, in order of priority I would want to accomplish then make a list so it is easy.

Do you have a checklist for power outages? Pre outage and post or just one of them? If you don't mind sharing I would be quite interested in what is on your list. By all means answer in the comments section.


Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Alternative Energy Levels of Capability, Foundations and Concepts

In our discussions on Honda EU2000 Generators and an excellent Alternative Energy Guest Post by Chris made it apparent to me that a more foundational post is needed.

Alternative Energy is sort of an umbrella term for all electrical power that is not from the conventional power grid IE the lines that run to most homes and businesses. In the most narrow sense generators that run on gas, diesel and propane are 'alternative energy'  though for some inclinations people are more inclined to lean towards 'green' options such as solar, wind and or water power.

People are interested in alternative energy for many diverse reasons. Some people have an application that simply not able to be met with grid power. Maybe they are in a place where grid power is not available or is prohibitively expensive. This is the case for many small home/ cabin/ retreat sites. Also there can be permitting issues that prohibit bringing available grid power to some alternative type (ie not conventionally built or necessarily permitted) structures.

Along these lines temporary applications that require a fair amount of power are often met by generators. This is big for contractors who might need to run power tools to build a shed, gate or structure where power might not be available. 

Other people are interested in alternative energy due to environmental and or 'global warming' and carbon footprint issues. I do not want to get into a discussion on the science (or lack thereof) any more than  I want to get into the politics involved. While I might disagree with a lot of things these folks think I respect that they are taking steps to help the causes that concern them.

Another reason people pursue alternative energy in order to meet their needs and wants during times when normal grid power is interrupted. At home in the PNW ice storms during the winter are a common culprit for power outages. In the Southern coastal regions hurricanes are the primary concern. Ice storms often knock out power for a week or more and hurricanes can go from a week to over a month. The emergency angle is where the majority of our focus is going to be directed.

It is often useful to break concepts down into levels of capability s they exist in my mind so we will do that. It is worth noting that I believe these systems should be acquired sequentially. Having a more robust setup doesn't detract from the benefits of a box o Duracell batteries and a couple kerosene lanterns.

I Dowanna

Concept of Use: Maybe you are not interested in alternative sources of electric power. Maybe you are interested but just haven't got there yet. In any case you are not currently putting resources into alternative energy.

Systems: Spare normal batteries to get you through whatever type event concerns you are essential here. Area lighting is probably going to be done via kerosene lamps/ lanterns. This leaves energy for stuff that really has to be electric such as radios and a few flashlights. If you are reasonable about goals and conservative about items used (# and amount of total use) a hundred bucks worth of Energizer/ Duracell batteries in a shoe box will go a really long way.

Limits: You are relying exclusively on disposable batteries. Works for a short period but once your box o batteries runs out you'll be back in the 1890's.

Cost: Maybe a hundred bucks in batteries. A bit more money to make sure other non electric systems can compensate. 

Absolute Bare Bones

Concept of Use: Getting started in alternative energy. This will be a very small/ light system with modest capabilities. This is a good place to start as it can become the redundant/ travel/ back up system if/ when you develop other systems.

Systems: A small compact solar charger, probably in the 5-7 watt range. This system will be able too rechargeable batteries to power small devices and potentially charge some small devices themselves. Most chargers will do AA and AAA batteries. If you pick carefully it is reasonable to power a radio for communication, some flashlights and maybe some Motorola type radios for inter group communication. You probably want 2-3 sets off batteries per device.

Limits: You are limited to recharging a few batteries and maybe some small devices. Use of all this stuff will have to be pretty limited due to the modest nature of your recharging capabilities.

Cost: Approximately $100 for a charger and $150-200 for batteries. Of course a harbor freight setup will be cheaper than say a Goal 0 setup.

Almost  Getting There 

Concept of Use: A more robust solar setup with some capacity for energy storage. This will allow for a larger amount of use (in the first setup charging time/ capacity off the small panel is a log jam), the capacity to charge some larger devices and storage to get through short overcast periods.

Systems: A 10-15 watt solar panel and a battery cell to store energy. You might want to pick up a few small lights and or individual devices (like a lantern or radio) that could be charged by the battery taking the strain off your rechargeable battery stash.

Limitations: (Edited the name from almost there to getting there after Chris brought up a good point about power use and functionality. While far better than the previous absolute bare bones level there are still significant limitations of total amounts of device use here even when we are just talking small electronics. This level will not let you run a base station type radio for communication all day long, talk to 4 family members all day on motorola's and watch dvd's on a laptop all night in a room lit up by 6 led lanterns or lights.)

Cost: Somewhere between $250 for a harbor freight type setup and closer  $500 for a ready made setup like a Goal 00. As a guideline name brand setups are more expensive and ready made portable setups are also more expensive.


Concept of Use: A small generator to power a variety of small devices up to fairly large household items such as a TV/ fridge/ freezer/ small AC unit. Typically these generators will run most household items (exceptions being water pumps, large heating/ ac units and other high demand items) but not all at once. Running a couple small lights, charging some stuff and powering a fridge/ freezer is reasonable.

These generators typically come in between 1,000 to 3,000 watts. Looking at the market and how people use them 1800-2200 seems to be the popular 'sweet spot'. This makes a lot of sense. The 1k units are on the verge of being too small for many applications and users will be pretty limited on using multiple items at once. The 3k units are almost too big to merit for a limited concept of use (especially due to lower fuel efficiency)  without being big enough to just run everything. These generators are generally pretty easy on fuel consumption which makes stocking sufficient fuel a reasonable proposition.

Limitations: Cannot run some larger household devices. You are limited in terms of how many smaller items can be used at once.  Obviously you need to store fuel and keep it fresh via preservation and rotation.

Cost: There are many options from $300ish Chinese made no name brands all the way up to the Honda and Yamaha's at about $1,000. The cheaper generators can work fine but a notable percentage do not. Finding horror stories about people having endless problems is not uncommon. There are issues with getting spare parts and maintenance.

The Honda and Yamaha are standard setters for small generators and roughly equivalent though minor differences might make one person choose a Honda and the next guy a Yamaha.

Chris mentioned the Hyundai 2200 watt generator.  I looked at the Hyundai a lot and we had some discussions about it. It is worth noting these generators are not made in Hyundai plants in the US or South Korea but are instead made in China. They are priced between $550 and 600ish. They are 2200 peak and 2k running load but also come in closer to 70 pounds than 50.Fuel consumption is similar to the Hond/Yamaha. They have been described as a middle ground between the cheaper Chinese made generators and the much more expensive Honda and Yamaha. There are however several factors that concerned me. First of the available reviews a notable percentage (10%ish) were very bad. Like 'opened the box and it wouldn't work' type bad. This was compounded by universally poor reviews of the customer service and warranty. Also of the good reviews nobody had used theirs all that much. Folks got them, used it a few times and are happy. This is notably different from the Honda and Yamaha who have a real following with the offshore sailing and RV community who use their generators an an almost daily basis for years.


Concept of Use: A large generator sufficient to power any household devices as well as many items, including larger ones at once. Basically fire up the generator and go back to business as usual.

Systems: Power requirements vary but this range of generators is typically over 5,000 watts though of course the needs of one household may differ widely from another. These generators are widely available in gas, diesel and propane. Often they are hard wired into the house letting you use existing circuits vs running extension cords all over the place.

 Pineslayer brought up propane as having some advantages. I agree it does offer some good stuff but personally if/ when I look at a large generator like this I am inclined to go with diesel. I think that for a few reasons. First of all diesel engines are notoriously reliable.

Second and in my mind most significantly diesel is more divisible and portable for the average end user than propane. Can't exactly walk over to the neighbors with an empty can and say "Hey Brother could you loan me a gallon of propane?" let alone buy large amounts from most anybody except those set up for retail sale. Propane on a large scale (vs BBQ tanks, etc) is set up to be delivered into your tanks. I think the exception here is if you already are deeply vested in propane and have a few big tanks already.

Limitations: These generators burn through fuel. Stashing a few cans will let a small generator, especially an efficient one run for awhile. What would run an EU2000 for a week might run one of these for a day. It's sort of like saying you have 2 months worth of Whiskey, till Ron White comes over then it is a wild weekend's worth.

For all but those willing to store huge amounts of fuel these generators work best for very short term events or as an option in conjunction with a smaller generator and or very robust solar setup to run bigger devices for high demand times. Say you use a small generator to run the freezer, charge batteries and have a few lights then when you need to use a bunch of power tools and some big shop lights fire up the big generator.

Cost: From a few hundred bucks at the low end to many thousands of dollars for the generator. Fuel will need to be stored also and that costs something. I wouldn't go through the hassle and expense of getting a big generator then stock enough fuel to run it for 3 days.


Concept of use: Honestly this is getting out of the short to mid term emergency range into an alternative energy lifestyle that is handy for today and would let you maintain some capabilities over a long term energy shortage. For the long term you need to get past burning stored fuel to producing your own energy.

Systems: What works best depends on where you are. Usually folks use some combination of solar plus wind and potentially water power. In any case you are probably looking at multiple ways to produce power in conjunction with a robust battery bank.

Limitations: It is cost prohibitive to run a normal American home with all of it's high and or constant energy demands with solar. You need to expect a whole lot less power and make choices within the amount of power you will have.

Cost: From several hundred dollars for a good solar setup and a few batteries to whatever you can afford to spend.

In due time I will go over my Absolute Bare Bones and Almost There systems.


Monday, May 19, 2014

What Did You Do To Prepare This Week?

It was an excellent preparedness week here.

Ordered a chicken coop. Hope to get it set up and acquire some fuzzy egg makers late this week.

Picked up a surefire flashlight. It was on clearance at Home Depot marked down from 70 something to $45. Needed one to go in the by the bed home defense fighting load. The discount pushed me to do it now instead of later.

While we were there a spare box of contractor bags was purchased. Those things are just so handy.

We went to Sam's Club where a variety of shelf stable foods were purchased to add to our stores.

Finally pulled the trigger on a Honda EU2000. Since this creates a significant fuel need I ordered 5 gas cans to feed it.

The chicken  coop and generator were funded by our tax return. Those little occasional lumps of cash are good for purchases that it would take a long time to save up for otherwise. Or you can blow em on a new flat screen tv, rim's or a weekend trip.

On the downside I fear Walker drowned our seedlings. He got a little over enthusiastic with the hose while Wifey and I were both temporarily occupied.

What Did You Do To Prepare This Week?

Sunday, May 18, 2014


This post is intended to lay out what you need to plan and implement a backup electricity plan.


Electricity is measured with three key variables.  I find it easiest to imagine them as a river, and will use that analogy.
AMPS:  The amount of current.  Think of this as the width or volume of the river.
VOLTS:  The force behind the current.  Think of this as the speed of the water in the river.
WATTS:  A unit of measure that combines both of the above using the following formula:  Watts = Amps x Volts.  They are a handy measure for comparing total juice across systems.

Alternating current systems, like the plugs in your house, are typically 110-120 volts.  A typical household circuit (i.e. all the plugs in one room) is 15 amps A/C.  Therefore, a typical household circuit is about 1650 watts.  Some circuits in your home, like the kitchen, may have higher amp limits.

Direct current systems, like those used by solar systems or your electronics, are often 12.6 volts.  Most batteries will measure their capacity in "amp-hours," or the number of hours that you can pull 1 amp out of the battery at 12.6 volts.  A large car battery will have something on the order of 100 aH.  The actual capacity of the battery will vary (generally go down) in cold temperatures, with heavy loads (hold that thought), and a few other factors.  Additionally, it is unwise to pull more than half the amps out of a battery.

It is possible to convert 110 volt AC to 12.6 volt DC and back again.  To go from 110v AC to 12.6v DC you need a device called a converter or a power supply.  Your laptop uses a power supply, for example, to convert the wall plug power into 12.6V DC for your computer.

To go from 12.6v DC to 110v AC, you need an inverter.  Inverters are usually measured in watts.  For example, a small 200 watt inverter intended for use in a cigarette lighter can generate about 1.8 amps of AC power (200 watts / 110 volts).

As an example, 10 amps of 12.6V DC power is 126 watts (remember, W = A*V).  If you convert that to 110v A/C through an inverter, you should get 1.14 amps (126 watts / 110 V = 1.14 A).

Neither of these devices are 100% efficient.  Expect losses due to heat, fans, internal circuitry, wiring, etc on each of them.  So, while the real ratios are 12.6 vs 110 volts, it is fair enough to simply use a factor of 10 or 100 when converting between the two.  So, as a simple rule of thumb, a 2000 watt generator should make 20 A/C amps.  A 2000 watt inverter requires 200 D/C amps to operate.

Finally, A/C current from generators and inverters can either be PURE or MODIFIED sine wave.  Pure is better for things like electronics that need clean electricity.  It also costs more.


Before going any further you need to determine how much juice you need.  You need to determine three things:
1)  Peak load.  This is the maximum number of amps your devices draw at any one time if you turn everything on.  Additionally, you must consider startup loads.  A lot of motors (such as compressors in A/C units or fridges) triple their power consumption for a few seconds while starting up.  This will be measured in amps (at a given voltage) or watts.
2)  Typical load.  What does the unit draw on a typical basis?  This will be measured in amps (at a given voltage) or watts.
3)  Average daily load (don't worry about this for generators).  This will be measured in amps (at a given voltage) or watts.

The best way to determine your energy consumption for A/C devices is to use a Kill-a-watt meter.  This handy device costs about $20.  Just plug the device into it and you can see the amps or watts drawn; it will also keep track of total watts drawn over time so you can let it run for a few days to determine average daily load.  It may not properly capture peak loads, however, so be careful there.

For D/C devices, you need some sort of in-line amperage meter.  One example is made by PowerWerx (

The manufacturer's notes may also give you some idea of your device.  You can also make some assumptions based on similar devices.  Finally, the Energy Star rating and cost per year estimate gives an idea of the average daily load.


If buying a generator, this is relatively easy.  Most generators will advertise their peak power, as it is the bigger number.  For example, the popular Honda EU2000i can surge to 2000 watts at 120 volts (aka 16.6 AC amps), but it is only rated to run at 1600 watts (aka 13.3 AC amps) for long durations.  The surge can help the generator handle peak loads.

If buying a generator I suggest you pick one of the following four:
- Harbor Freight Storm Cat.  You can get this for about $80 if you get a coupon off ebay.  It generates 800 watts continuous (6.6 amps), which is enough for a window air conditioner, a fridge, or some electronics (not all at once).  It is a two stroke engine so you'll need to mix gas and oil like you do for a chainsaw or weed whacker.  This is a marginal-quality device but it is a great price and for most people will meet emergency or camping needs just fine.  I personally have one.  For the price you could easily put away a spare.
- Honda EU2000 or Yamaha 2000i.  Both are great machines, gold standards for generators--at a commensurate price.
- Hyundai's 2K generator.  Similar to the Honda or Yamaha, but cheaper and with slightly lower quality.  Just like the cars -- do you want a Honda Civic or a Hyundai Elantra?

Some people may be able to get by with a 1000 watt generator.  You will save some money, weight and gas.  Look at your load requirements carefully and remember the difference between peak and continuous rating.


Many people want to try solar.  It is important to be realistic about what you can get out of solar.  The math -- which we'll explore shortly -- is cruel.

Let's look at a basic solar system and the components:
- PANELS:  These are measured in watts.  Most panels intended for 12.6V batteries actually put out 18V or so which allows them to charge the batteries.  Every 100 watts of solar panels thus produces about 5.5 amps of 12.6 DC power.  Panels cost about $1 per watt, but the price is higher for smaller panels.
- CHARGE CONTROLLERS:  These are measured in amps, usually 12.6V DC.  You need a controller which can handle the input of your panels.  For example, if you have three 100 watt panels, you need at least a 15A controller.  Controllers can be PWM (cheaper, less efficient, requires thicker gauge wires from the panels) or MPPT (10-20% more efficient, can use thinner wire).  Price for a good controller is about $3/amp (PWM) or $10/amp (MPPT).
- BATTERY:  Your charge controller juices up batteries.  There are many options for batteries but the simplest is AGM.  Battery capacity is measures in "amp hours" and known as "C."  The optimal charging rate for an AGM battery is about C/8.  The optimal discharge rate for an AGM battery is about C/20.  Using our hypothetical example with 15 amps of solar coming in from the panels, we'd be best off with a battery around 120 aH (8*15 amps) in size.  AGM batteries cost around $2/aH.
- INVERTER:  If you want to convert your stored 12.6 volt energy in the battery to A/C so you can plug in your TV or fridge, you will need an inverter.  These are measured in watts, as we've discussed.  The optimal discharge rate for our 120 aH battery is thus 6 amps -- at 12.6 volts DC.  That would correlate to 0.6 amps A/C -- or about 66 watts.  Youch!  That wouldn't run much.  Break out your Kill-A-Watt and see what 0.6 amps will power...  Much like generators, inverters need to be sized for peak loads.

The other complication is that we don't get 24 hours a day of sun.  Thus we need to collect enough during the day to make up for our energy consumption at night.  Most places in the US get about 4.5 hours per day of optimal sun on average.  This can vary up to 6 in the SW or down to 3.5 in the far north.  Thus, our 300W of panels making 15 amps of juice will generate a total of 67.5 aH (15 amps x 4.5 hours) each day.  That is where factor three above (total daily consumption) comes in.


So, let's examine what would be necessary to run, say, a fridge.  I slapped a Kill-a-Watt on my fridge and saw that it pulls about 200 watts (~2 AC amps) when running, with a surge up to around 400 (~4 AC amps) on startup.  Daily consumption was about 1500 watts (~15 AC amps) because it is not on all the time.

- This means I would need at least a 400W inverter to handle the peak load.  This would suck up to 40 12.6v DC amps at once out of a battery.  Peak loads above 40A are problematic; voltage loss (from resistance in wires) at 12.6v are high as the amps ramp up.  You will need thick wires to run this.  40A is the most that typical automotive fuses will handle for a reason.
- The sustained load would be about 200W, or 20 12.6v DC amps.  This implies that my battery needs to be 400 aH in size (20A*20 optimal discharge factor).  We could likely get away with a smaller battery, but exceeding the C/20 recommendation reduces the efficiency of the battery and thus we'd get fewer amps than the rating out of a smaller unit.
- Daily consumption would be 1500W, or about 150 12.6v DC amps.  That means in the 4.5 hours a day we get good sun, I'd need to collect at least 33 amps every hour to charge up my batteries enough to pull out those 1500 watts over the course of the rest of the day.  If you recall, our optimal charging rate is C/8, so I'd need a battery of at least 264 aH, which shouldn't be a problem based on our discharge requirements which mandate a 400 aH bank.  Additionally, it is bad to pull more than half the amps out of a battery.  So, my battery needs to be at least 300 aH in size (150A per day x 2), again, not a factor based on the discharge requirement above.

We can estimate the cost of such a system:
- Solar Panels sufficient to generage 30 amps:  500 or 600 watts in panels should do this.  ~$550.
- 30A Charge Controller:  $120 (PWM Morningstar) or $355 (MPPT Morningstar).  If you opt for PWM the panels must be close to the controller (around 10 feet).
- 400 aH battery bank:  $800.
- 400W inverter:  <$100
- Misc wires, breakers, fuses, etc:  ~$100-200
- Transfer switch which will flip our system from solar to shore power if the power comes on or the battery gets low:  ~$50
- Low Voltage Disconnect to turn off the inverter if our battery gets low:  ~$50

The total is around $2K, more or less.  This is about the same price as the nice generators but it runs a LOT less stuff.  Your 1600 watt generator gives you 1600 watts every hour.  The 400 aH battery bank gives you about 2500 amps -- all day, with much lower peak and sustained loads.


It takes about 14 years to payback a moderate solar system as described above, based on typical electricity costs.  The good news is that certain residential systems qualify for a 30% rebate in the form of a tax credit.  Additionally, if you pay a surcharge for electricity at peak hours (usually mid-day) you may get back your investment sooner.


Solar is attractive as it is silent, renewable, and can save you money in the long run.  The downsides are that it takes a ton of panels to run even modest appliances, the system is not particularly mobile, and it is far more expensive watt-for-watt than a generator and a few cans of gas.  As you can see, it costs $2K to run a fridge -- and that assumes no cloudy days!  Nothing beats dead dinosaurs for compact energy sources.

You will need to decide what meets your needs best.  Personally, I have the harbor freight generator to run a fridge or window A/C plus 250 watts of panels going into a 110 aH battery which gives me enough to run some 12V lights, fans, and electronics indefinitely.  I have interest in upgrading to a Honda or Yamaha as well as a 1-2KW solar system but those are relatively low priorities.

Remember, if you are unclear of the details, you should experiment with a subscale system to learn how to safely make connections, fuse things properly, etc and/or consult a professional.  I shorted a 12 aH battery and generated quite a little fire with melted wiring; I'm glad I learned my mistake with a small battery and limited consequences before messing around with my much larger system!

I now have a safe, quiet solar system that works for me every day, along with a generator for larger loads like the window A/C.  It is a good combination.  We use them for camping now but they would be equally useful in an emergency situation.

I hope this was helpful.  I have researched the topics substantially and hope you can apply this information to your own scenario.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Honda EU2000?

I'm pretty much sure solid on the choice and have hinted at it earlier but figured I might as well run it by you all. We are looking at purchasing a generator, specifically a Honda EU2000. Commander Zero recently purchased one which carries a lot of weight with me. Anyway.

I know there are far cheaper generators out there so don't bother letting me know. Knowing and accepting my current limitations I can do some very basic maintenance but am not a mechanic or in any way skilled in small engine repair/ trouble shooting. As such the various $400 chinese made POS options are not appealing. Especially given that my concept of use is almost entirely emergency based (vs weekend camp out's, construction, etc) I need the damn thing to work when I go to start it up.  The Hyundai 2200 had some appeal but reviews are pretty mixed and when I dug into them nobody had seriously used theirs. Conversely the EU2000 has lots of folks in the RV and sailing communities quite convinced it is the way to go. Folks are reporting 10k hours on them which is crazy for a small gas powered generator.

My concept of use is as an emergency power source to allow us to keep the freezer going, charge batteries and my Goal 0 power source, maybe run a few lights and potentially a small tv for short periods to catch the local news. If we could keep the fridge going even moderately cool that would be a big bonus. Obviously I would not be doing all of that at once; conceptually it would probably be either the fridge or freezer and maybe a light or some batteries charging.

I tried looking up detailed information on the our fridge and freezer's power needs but either the data isn't available or I am not power smart enough to understand it. Based on general info (by appliance) I should be fine but should ain't for sure. Note if you can seriously provide help here drop me an email @ and I'll send you the specifics of my freezer and fridge.

Fuel consumption is a concern for me in terms of finances tied up,  logistics of storage. and resupply. Based on our current situation my concerns (hurricanes and prolonged power outages thereon) are more about being able to stretch 3-4 5 gallon gas can's out to keep the freezer cold and batteries charged over two or maybe three weeks; by running the genny for short periods 2--3 times a day rather than a big 8-10k genny that could power the whole house but I'd have gas for 2-3 days.We will of course add fuel to run the generator. However if things got worse than planned I'm looking at the odds that I could purchase, if at a stiff free market price, fuel to keep our generator going at 2-3 gallons a day for a couple extra weeks.


Friday, December 27, 2013

2014 New Years Resolutions- Soliciting Input

I am going to try a different way of breaking these up this year. More by function than anything else.

Edited to include: the stuff in light grey are long shots. By long shots I mean they are not realistically funded based on projected levels of spending. Admittedly this is pretty unscientific since I do not have an exact projected preps budget that is divided amongst different areas. It's probably more of a gut feeling based on the last few years of what I will realistically be able to do than anything else.

Attend a quality defensive pistol course. Scheduled in one for early 2014.
Try to attend an Appleseed if I can. Due to scheduling and other life stuff this is a long shot.
Following said defensive pistol course begin a dry fire regimen.
Shoot more often. Ideally at least monthly but certainly not more than bi monthly.

Finish the 870 P project. Refinish, light, sling, ammo cards, ammo holding system to match.
Get a .30 cal precision rifle almost surely a .308.
I have been semi casually looking for a single shot 12 gauge shotgun to go all Dave Canterbury. If I find one I will buy it.
Set up the big wheel gun the way I want it. Grips, holster, belt, speed loaders, etc all
Put nice grips on the 642 like Alexander Wolfe's.
 Maybe start on an AR pistol

Consumables and minor stuff:
250 rounds buckshot
250 rounds #4 shot
250 slugs
Get a quality kydex outside waistband Glock holster with mag pouches to match
4 Ruger 10/22 BXP mags
A case of 5.56 ammo
A stripped AR-15 lower receiver
Long shot a case of 9mm FMJ and a second case of 5.56 ammo
10 each PMAGs
 6x Glock 17 mags
I can always use another 10/22 or a Glock 19 but those are big time long shots.

Run more, keeping better track of it. Maybe do a marathon or something.
Keep up a decent weight lifting regimen with hard circuit based body weight type stuff.
Generally keep on doing good things

Break in all extra boots that are currently accessible.
Not sure exactly where this fits but I want to firm up our heavy (vehicle) bug out packing list then have that stuff ready to go. Also continue developing all of our systems
Purchase a small enclosed trailer. 

Skills: Get a ham radio license
Get better with HTLM and web coding stuff (any advice would be great)

Get a ham radio, probably one of the little Baeofong (spelling) setups to start.
Get a set of 2 (4 would be better) good FRS radios with head sets. I have a pair in storage that might work but I've got to test them.
Get a scanner 

Keep building our food supply to the interim goal of having a year's worth for 4 people
Get chickens
Start growing some herbs n stuff. Maybe sprouts too.

Continue to improve our cache situation
Work to develop primitive skills
Pick up another full tang medium sized survival/ general purpose knife or maybe two plus stuff to round out some of the redundant parts of my various kits
Get 3-4 more wool blankets

Alternative Energy:
Skills: Use the stuff we have more to figure out how to make it work for our needs. This includes a good plan for charging Wifey's smart phone on the go.

Stuff : Wifey mentioned wanting to get a generator before hurricane season. We are far enough North in Louisiana so as to avoid utter destruction but can definitely lose power. A buddy up here lost power for a week during Rita. This worried Wifey. So we might just get a generator. Probably an EU 2000 like Zero has.

Stashing a half dozen or so military gas cans would be nice. Enough gas to completely fill up both our vehicles twice and run a genny enough to keep the freezer cold, charge batteries and watch a bit of news for at least 2 weeks (a month would be better) would be great. Got to do some math on that one.

That's what I have planned for this coming year. If there are any major changes as things calm down I'll publish a final draft, otherwise I'll run with this one.

What do you plan to do?

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

2013 New Years Resolutions Recap

 So I realized it is about end of the year time. Figured I'd see how this years New Years Resolutions turned out. Obviously completed ones will be lined through. Comments will be in italics


Maintain a consistent weight lifting program. It wasn't 100% perfect but I have been lifting much more than I have for years. Overall I'll call it a W.

Run over 1,000 miles. Didn't track this honestly. Rough mental math says it was closer to 600.

Ruck at least 1x a week . Didn't do this but have been rucking more consistently than in years so I'll call it a partial W.

Eat reasonably with decent consistency so I don't gain and lose the same weight 2-3 times over the year. Eh did better than the year before so it's something.

Skills/ Training:

Attend a defensive handgun course. Did not happen, tried but things kept falling through. This will roll over to next year with a high probability it will happen.

Attend a trauma based first aid class (I am due for retraining). Negatron.

Work on developing a variety of other skills as they come up by doing as much myself as possible. Did some DIY home stuff which was good. I'll call it a W

Guns and Gun Junk:

Pick up a couple holsters, pouches and assorted other stuff to get squared away for what we have.  I went a long way on this one. It is always a work in progress but a Raven Concealment Vanguard 2 and Safariland 6285 plus the War Belt it lives on were enough to make this a solid W.

Buy 2 cases of .223 ammo. Did not happen, prices are getting better but slower than I figured they would. Ended up buying 7.62x39 instead as it's prices went back to relatively normal faster.

Free float the barrel on project AR. Pending I ordered the rail in July but it hasn't showed up yet. Honestly I'm so angry about the whole thing I don't want to talk about it.

Get more spare parts. Beef up on core stuff (AR's and Glocks) and get some basic stuff for other guns. I got a fair bit of AR parts including a full BCG and a spare buttstock. Will call this a W though the non AR side of the house can still use some love.

Finally get my (already sporterized) 1903 30'06 tapped and mount a scope on it.  Sold the '03 so this one is moot.

If this gun ban madness calms down start building an AR pistol. Parts prices are getting better but I haven't gotten to this one yet. May roll over to next year.


Build up to a 1 year supply of food for 4 people. We made progress on this one. Not a win but at least a partial one.

Can something. Tried and failed (underestimated the cooking piece, no point canning junk).

Edited to include: Will upgrade this to a partial. Forgot to add that I canned some strawberry jam with an acquaintance. Could definitely repeat the process.

Pursue gardening/ fishing/ hunting as it fits with our environment and life.  Did a fair amount of fishing this late summer/ early fall.

 Energy/ Other:

Get a better solar setup. A bigger panel with a power supply and a few small lights is the answer. Goal 0 makes what I am looking for. It will cost about $400. Probably 500 once I get the lights. This would have gotten purchased late in 2012 but the whole ban madness shifted my priorities elsewhere.
Purchased the Goal 0 setup.

Get licensed to drive a motorcycle. Purchase a used enduro/ adventure touring motorcycle. Nada. Just maybe next year.

Continue putting together and refining our systems. Firm up the bug out bags and the heavy (vehicle) bug out setup. I hesitate to call this one complete as these systems are always evolving but substantial progress was made.

Re look and improve our cache situation. Substantial progress was made here.


Continue being debt free and saving. Along these lines continue not doing stupid things. 
We did some saving. Didn't do anything stupid.

Once we are done with the food storage goal get back to putting away some silver and gold. Worked food pretty hard. Did make a small gold and silver purchase when prices went down so technically it was a W.

Long Shots:

Get a DBAL for my AR. Done.

Buy some land (this mostly depends on some other things). Ended up going with the other thing. Will kick this one down the road.

Overall Assessment: Some goals were met, some others were partially met and some fell through the cracks. Overall not too bad.

Due to firearmagedon last year got pretty gun centric. Also if I am being intellectually honest it gave me an excuse to go on a bit of a gun buying spree. Last year I purchased mumble mumble number of guns including the 642, the 870 P and mumble, mumble, mumble.

I also ended up putting away 2 cases of 7.62x39 as I needed it and it was affordable, a fair bit of 12 gauge shotgun shells, several hundred rounds of .22lr and some various other ammo when it was available at sane prices and I had the cash to buy it. Ended up with a few more AR mags and a couple Glock mags also.

We moved into a better place when we got to Louisiana which is really nice. Also put some cash into getting furniture and generally upgrading our household. This isn't prep stuff but the Mrs wanted and deserved some decent stuff. The Broke College Kid home decorating plan stops being cute at some point. Of course we saved up and did it reasonably.

Along these lines we also purchased a large gun safe. An important purchase we've probably been putting off too long. 

A lot of little stuff was purchased towards getting my EDC and fighting loads right.

We got Dog. He's not actually that useful but is large and imposing looking. Odds he'll wake up, let alone eat a burglar are low but we don't actually need that, just need the burglar to go rob somebody else.

That is really all I can think of that happened in terms of preparedness.

On the down side (or not depending on how you look at it) we spent a lot of money. Of course we saved and planned for it but we ended up writing some huge checks. It goes without saying we didn't touch the emergency fund. That being said stuff isn't getting cheaper or better made so getting things we want, within reason, might not be such a bad plan anyway. Honestly limiting the percentage of our resources that is in digital accounts within the interwebz is something I wanted to do anyway.

What did you do to prepare this year?

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

What Did You Do To Prepare This Week

Got my war belt configuration figured out.

Got firewood. Also a splitting maul and a couple wedges.

Purchased a kerosene heater, 5 gallons of K1 and a spare wick. 

Organizing some more stuff for the cache. It will go out this week.

Purchased a bunch of kiddo go food at Sam's Club.

It was a pretty good week in terms of preparedness. Also got a lot done for our residence. It isn't over yet but we are a lot closer. Hopefully this week (and weekend) the last parts can get done so we can move back to a more normal life balance.

What did you do to prepare this week?

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Small Heaters; Kerosene or Propane?

I'm looking to purchase a small heater. It's uses would be as an alternate heating source for whatever events might come. I've pretty much narrowed it down to the Mr Buddy type propane heater with an adapter to connect to a 5 gallon propane bottle (instead of the tiny disposable bottles) or some sort of kerosene heater.

Propane has a slight edge as it's a fuel we already stock for the ambiguous Coleman stove and lantern plus BBQ. However the (admittedly one time) cost of 2 more bottles is a factor.

On the other hand Kerosene does not have that cost and it will work in our hurricane lantern as well as my multi fuel camping stoves. My folks had these heaters when I was a kid, both to add predictability to winter heating expenses and for emergencies. Generally they worked quite well though are more suited for occasional/ emergency use than several hours a day all winter long.

Open to your thoughts before making a purchase.

As always please separate input based on personal experiences from 3rd hand and internet type stuff. Thanks

Monday, April 15, 2013

What Did You Do To Prepare This Week?

I'm still working on cleaning up a gun. Slowly but surely just soaking with WD-40, wiping and repeating every day or so is getting the last couple rough spots cleaned up. Ordered a more robust solar setup which is something that has been on the list for awhile now. Will write more about it down the road sometime. Put some seedlings into containers in the garden. The beans seem to be thriving, unsure about the lettuce and spinach as of now.

Other than that not a ton going on here. What did you do to prepare this week?

Friday, March 15, 2013

New Years Resolutions- Finalized a bit late

I dropped some draft goals awhile back and was recently reminded of them. It is high time I solidify them.


Maintain a consistent weight lifting program.

Run a half marathon (I changed to this because it's March and I haven't tracked mileage which was a big fat fail)

Continue working on barefoot running towards the goal of running on a  variety of terrain up to 5k barefoot

Transition to running fully in minimalist shoes

Ruck at least 1x a week

Eat reasonably with decent consistency so I don't gain and lose the same weight 2-3 times over the year.

Skills/ Training:

Attend a defensive handgun course.

Work on developing a variety of other skills as they come up by doing as much myself as possible.

Guns and Gun Junk:

Pick up a couple holsters and assorted other stuff to get squared away for what we have. (Specifically a nice Bravo or Raven concealment kydex holster for the Glock with TLR-1, a good OWB holster for the J frame, and an ankle holster.)

Purchase a DBAL and free float the barrel on project AR.  (The DBAL is almost funded I just need to do a bit more research then pull the trigger.)

Finally complete Project 870. At least the tube extension and sling. The light angle I've got to do some thinking on.

Get more spare parts. Beef up on core stuff (AR's and Glocks) and get some basic stuff (firing pin, extractor, ejector, springs, pins, etc) for other guns.

Finally get my (already sporterized) 1903 30'06 tapped and mount a scope on it.

If things work out and decent deals come along I would like to get a single shot 12 gauge and another .22 rifle. 

Subcategory Ammo: I am only doing this if prices get back to normalish. Would take my best whack at it and if I get half done be happy.
5k .22lr
1k 9mm
1k 12 gauge (mixed about 400 buck, 100 slug and 500 mixed small game loads)
2k .223


Build up to a 1 year supply of food for 4 people.

Can something

Continue with my garden this year.

Pursue fishing/ hunting as it fits with our environment and life. 

 Energy/ Other:

Get a better solar setup. A bigger panel with a power supply and a few small lights is the answer. Goal 0 makes what I am looking for. It will cost about $400. Probably 500 once I get the lights. This would have gotten purchased late in 2012 but the whole ban madness shifted my priorities elsewhere.

Get licensed to drive a motorcycle. Maybe purchase a used enduro/ adventure touring motorcycle.

Continue putting together and refining our systems. Firm up the bug out bags and the heavy (vehicle) bug out setup.

Re look and improve our cache situation.


Continue being debt free and saving. Along these lines continue not doing stupid things. 

If we reach our food storage goal get back to putting away some silver and gold.

Long Shots:

Start on the AR Pistol.

Buy some land (this mostly depends on some other things).

As always input is welcome. It would be fairly useful now before these resolutions are solidified. 

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Reader Question: Goal 0 Yetti 150 Solar Charger

Anybody have personal experience with Goal 0 equipment? What about the new Yetti 150 Solar charger? If so please chine in with your thoughts. Thanks,

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Sun Oven In Progress Review

Since we are in Arizona, the land of the eternal sun there are a lot of opportunities to play with the Sun Oven.The picture is not mine I shamelessly stole it from this gal who uses her Sun Oven to make bread.

First it is worthwhile to talk a little bit about the Sun Oven. Here are some basic stats. The SUN OVEN is 19” x 19” with an average depth of 11”. The total weight is only 21 pounds. The back of the outside outer box is 14″ high and the front of the outer box is 9″ high. The back of the oven chamber is 11″ high and the front is 7″ high, with an average depth of 9″. The door opening for the oven chamber is 14″ in diameter. When opened the reflectors are 32″ in diameter.

The following materials used to make a SUN OVEN®:
Reflectors Anodized aluminum (which will never oxidize, rust or corrode)
Outer shell ABS plastic
Bezel Poplar wood (kiln dried)
Inner shell Anodized aluminum
Door Tempered glass
Between the aluminum inner shell and the plastic outer shell there is a thick batt of food grade fiberglass insulation.

The fit and finish are very nice.

Using the Sun Oven is fairly easy if you read the instructions and watch the videos. However if you do not do those things it is much harder. Don't ask how I know this. It is really important to position the Sun Oven properly. It needs to be facing the sun or slightly ahead of it and the elevation needs to be adjusted so as much sun is hitting the inside of the oven as possible.

Today I did a test to see how the Sun Oven does at getting up to real cooking temperatures. After setting it up I started a timer. After 15 minutes the temp in the Sun Oven was a bit above 300 degrees. At the half hour mark it was sitting at about 340. At the hour mark it reached a peak at 360. The temp would slip down a little bit when the sun moved away before time to adjust it. Someplace on the website I read that they recommend checking it every half hour and making a minor adjustment to keep it in the suns path. Also some folks will position their ovens so they will get the prime afternoon sun and go to work leaving the oven to do it's thing.

It is a bit early for a review but we will use the same format to discuss initial experiences and impressions.

The Good: A well made product. Some folks use theirs regularly for years. There isn't really anything on it that could break through normal use (obviously if you run it over with a truck or something that is an issue) which would not be easy to fix.

Capable of cooking using the power of the sun so it will not run out of fuel. Being able to bake and do the kind of long duration cooking that will just suck fuel on a Coleman stove is really nice. Like a lot of folks right now we do not have a wood stove, let alone one with an oven. We will not necessarily have one all the time (we are semi nomadic due to my job) until we settle down. A solar oven goes a long way towards filling that niche.

The Bad:

The Sun Oven does have some downsides. It is fairly large at 19"x19"x12"ish. You could fill the inside space with anything light like clothes or bedding but the thing is still pretty big.

Weather is a consideration. I am not exactly sure how much sun these ovens need to work but they do need some. Folks in perpetually overcast places might want to do some research before making a purchase.

Also Sun Ovens are not cheap. I think for the right person in the right climate they could definitely pay for themselves in normal times and be priceless in an emergency situation. On the other hand it would be a pretty expensive item to purchase and have just sit around.

There is a learning curve with solar cooking. You really do not want to try it for the first time when normal options are not available and wasting or ruining food is a serious problem. This is something that pretty much needs to get figured out before you need it.

The Ugly: No ugly at this time.


I see a couple real roles for the Sun Oven.  The first is as a way to save some money on the old gas/ electric bill. Along these lines it is just fun to fiddle around with. The second is as a way to cook in a set location be it a retreat or home or whatever. Being able to bake without an oven would be really nice in such a scenario. This oven could be the difference between having mediocre flat bread as your staple and real genuine bread. It is not really so good for a bug out type situation but in a basecamp or home type situation it has real potential to be an important part of ones cooking plans.

It is true that there are other solar cooking methods including DIY projects based on cardboard boxes and aluminum foil. The Sun Oven folks put a lot of time and energy into making that thing gather and hold as much heat as it can. They are really efficient which means you get more cooking out of the available sun than a less efficient solar cooker.

I think deciding if a sun oven is for you or if you should go another way depends a lot on what you want a solar cooker to do. If it is going to be a novelty you want to play with once or twice then a Sun Oven would be a hard sell. On the other hand if you are looking at a solar cooker being a key part of your overall cooking plans do you really want to be relying on a cardboard box and some aluminum foil?

As I start cooking with the Sun Oven we will talk about it more. Hopefully some of that will happen this coming week.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Guest Post: The Case for Cheap Led's

Hey Ryan, glad that you made it back to the US and that your family is doing well and is ever-expanding. I wrote you a while back about experimenting with the Walmart LED landscape lights as a backup light source:

Not wanting to spend $200 plus on a solar charger and LED lighting system, I decided to experiment with some alternatives. I bought a couple of the LED lights with solar chargers on them. Both of the types were found at Wally-World on the cheap( Ryan, I think I sent the first message last fall). I paid $3 for the little single LED light and about $5-8 for the large 3 LED spotlight. My thoughts were to have a functioning part of daily life have a dual role in case of an emergency.

What I found was interesting. On the little guy, if you twist the cap a half-turn, the top comes off. This is the guts of the whole light. The solar charger is on top and the LED on the bottom. Second, I noticed a battery door with a Phillips-head screw in it. After this was opened, I discovered a AA rechargeable battery ran the whole thing. BONUS! When I took the top in the house and walked from room to room with the single lumen, it lit a room fine. Of course it was dim but it was great for just illuminating the room. I found it worked even better if I reached up and set the light down on top of a ceiling fan blade. Months after starting the experiment, the little guy still stays lit until sometime after I go to bead.

The big-guy didn't do as well. It was sealed at the battery box and didn't last nearly as long- even on day one. Part two was a functional failure before it even got started.

In the end, I found the cheap single lumen landscape lights a viable dual function survival tool that keeps itself charged at all times and stays in the front yard until the lights go out. It then gets un-capped and brought in to supplement the lanterns and candles. The kids can't burn the house down and it also keeps some recharged AA batteries matter what I have forgot to buy or keep charged. My next plan is to grab about 5-10 of these and take the batteries out of them. I'll store them in the Lights-Out box in the basement so that I can go put the batteries in them and stake them in to the ground if it looks like the power will be out more than one night. I also want to try putting a couple of lights under the one that is on and see what it takes to trip them on and off using each other's light. I want to try and make a daisy-chain of the lights that will turn each other on as the one before it runs out of juice. Total cost $3 to infinity. 

Thanks, Man 
Take care and post this some time you need a break!

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Winning and Losing: Eating Well, Couch to 5k, Berkey Water Filter and Solar Power

We have been making some changes lately. We have started eating a lot better. More fresh fruit and veggies, lean protien and better carbs. Less eating out, just plain junk and carbtastic blah meals. Most of it is pretty intuitive. If there are not chips in the house you won't eat chips. Having some discipline and not going out to eat every time we feel like it and that sort of thing. The carb thing is kind of a grey area with lots of folks taking different views. We have both tried the super low/ no carb thing before and it doesn't work for us. She just hates it and I am tired and weak all the time. Instead we are trying to eat more reasonable portions of wheat bread or tortillas and brown rice. Just avoiding the huge bowl of white rice or plate of pasta kind of meals. We both feel a lot better and are getting healthier.
Wifey has been doing Couch to 5k. She is midway through week 6 right now. While she, like many people, does not currently and probably never will like running it is working for her. She noticed that dragging the kid up stairs has gotten easier. I would say this is a real good program for lots of people to seriously look at. If you are a fairly healthy person who is of a reasonable (like not morbidly obese) body weight but have not been very physically active this is a great way to get back to it. Toss in some sort of weight training program and you will be good to go. If you are seriously overweight or woefully out of shape it might be wise to do some sort of build up to this program, like eating reasonably and walking 1-2 times a day several days a week for a month or two to build up some conditioning and drop some fat. As always everybody should consult a general practice doctor, a dietitian, a cardiologist and a physical therapist before any sort of change to their diet or beginning any exercise program.

Personally I am cutting back to 2 times at the weight pile a week and upping my conditioning. Still doing the big lifts, just a bit more geared toward holding what I've got while conditioning gets tightened up. The human body only has so much work capacity and most of us only have so much time so there is a sort of push/ pull relationship. If you add or up the intensity in one thing you are going to almost inevitably lose ground in some other. Also inherantly between weight training and running/ cardio/ conditioning there is an inherant trade off. It isn't a bad thing really, especially for someone without many sport specific goals. Unless you plan to be a competitive marathoner or powerlifter it really isn't an issue.

On the downside our Berkey water filter is currently deadlined. I couldn't get it to seal and pass the dye test then (maybe while slightly frusterated;) I broke one of the white plastic nut/ bolt combo's that seal up the holes without an element in it while putting it back on. So I am not sure what exactly was wrong but now there is a new problem to deal with. Talk about not moving in the right direction!

This happened about three weeks ago and I put it away in frustration. I am going to get a replacement nut/ bolt and some more elements (either to replace the faulty ones or as spares) then go from there. On the bright side the good folks at Directive 21 have been great in helping me trouble shoot things and have just been a huge help with this. If I weren't such a slacking procrastinator this problem would likely already be fixed. Had I bought our Berkey from some no name fly by night folks who knows where I would be.  There are no problems that money (hopefully not very much, I really want it to be just the washer, not the element(s)!) and time can't fix. It hasn't been a huge concern because we have another water filter. Maybe there is a lesson there.

On a nice sunny day recently I busted out my little solar charger. I fiddled with it until I had a decent idea how it was supposed to work and then plugged in my kindle. After several hours in direct sunlight nothing happened and my dead kindle was still dead. This lead to a good amount of not very nice language.

 I realised a few things from this. First of all I do not know anywhere near enough about electricity. Second since we have added all sort of stuff, some pure entertainment and some useful since picking this charger up we may have already outgrown it. Third I need to test it at it's primary purpose which will be charging AA and AAA sized batteries. I am waiting for a sunny day when I have time to mess with it. Another more substantial (probably 15-26 watts) portable solar charger and maybe some sort of battery bank could be in order. However I have to do some more testing and become a more educated consumer before putting something else onto the wish list. If anybody has good resources to check out on this front I would be interested. Specifically good primers on electricity in general and a good breakdown of what watt/ size pannels can charge what sort of stuff and in how long would be great.

These two events were pretty frusterating for me. Nothing like having to go back to the drawing board or adding something else to the shopping list in an area where you thought things were good. Then again testing stuff is a good thing, even if you don't get the answers that you would like. Far better to have issues now, with the worst case being spending a little bit of money (water filter) or adjusting my expectations and maybe searching for a new piece of gear (solar charger), then some time down the road during an emergency when I need this stuff to work.

I guess the closing point is to look at eating healthier, getting into better shape plus alsp really start testing and retesting your equipment. Odds are something that should work might not.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Quote of the Day

"The issue as I see it is that American liberals are anti energy or at least any functional and viable forms of energy. They don't like coal or oil and I can kind of get that. However they also do not like nuclear energy. Electric cars are ...just about the stupidest thing out there because most electricity comes from coal or diesel powered generators. I would be for some kind of policy that would lead to enviornmentally friendly energy independence if it is a serious conversation. Wind and solar are great but they can only meet a tiny percentage of our total energy use. One might as well say that homes will be powered by rainbows and gum drops."
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