Lessons Learned

A few things on my “to purchase” list as soon as I find employment:

Wyatt got it worse than we did with his basement, and to top it all off had to go to work today. I hope all you New Jersey folks are doing well. They are the ones who got the hurricane force winds. Gusts are dying down around here, as the storm heads off. I am greatly relieved at that, since I am close to losing another large tree limb.

34 thoughts on “Lessons Learned”

  1. I got out of going to work! Why? Because some Prius-driving jerkass slammed into my car on the way in. Please weekend, end now.

  2. The only thing I might change is the chainsaw. I’ve used both electric and gas chainsaws and I’d go with the gas one every time. I saw this for two reasons – first, I wouldn’t want to be using an electric tool in wet conditions and second, the gas saw won’t get bogged down like the electric one.

    You don’t have to go big time with a brand-new Husqvarna or Stihl built for lumberjacks. I have an older Echo and it works just fine.

    The rest of your list is very sensible and definitely developed from your experiences.

    I don’t know if you have flood insurance but you might want to check into it.

  3. We have a couple of the Eton’s radio cell phone chargers. While they work ok to charge an old style cell phone, I’ve yet to figure out how to get mine to charge a smartphone (or more specifically, my iphone). I think a better option is something like a solar cell phone battery charger which has enough capacity to recharge an iphone to full power and can be recharged via solar (about 24 hours to fully power iphone) or via USB cable (2-3 hours to fully charge iphone).

  4. I have one of these Sangean (I believe now owned by Eton?) portable radios, and I highly recommend it.

    It doesn’t charge other devices, but it works great as a radio (the most important thing, IMO), it’s sturdy (the knobs and crank on this thing have a nice, high-quality feel to them), water-resistant, can operate on AA batteries or the internal rechargeable batteries, and has a functional, if not blinding, light on the front. It can also be powered from an external source, though it doesn’t come with any adapters, so I’ve never tried it. AA batteries keep the thing running for long periods of time, anyway.

    One thing that it’s missing, however, is a NOAA weather band, which could be a deal breaker.

  5. I live in an ‘old neighborhood’ in an old former colony. Not a day goes by we don’t get a downed tree limb. In the tropical storm tree lottery, my neighbor took the hit with a 50 foot limb falling into the street. Unfortunately, he’s renting the place out and all I had was some minor clean up.

    John is right about the chainsaw. For light yard work you can get a good new or reconditioned 18 inch chainsaw with plenty of muscle for routine yard work, just over a hundred bucks. A power pole saw might also be worth a look too. I used mine in the run up to Irene to keep my lines clear of blowing trees.

    We lost power for almost 5 days after Isabel and used the vehicles for phone charging duties.

    Wyatt, maybe you could get a bumper sticker:
    One less Prius? (glad you’re ok though)

  6. Add me to the list of people recommending a decent gas chainsaw. I’ve gone through 3 electric chainsaws in 6 years. I have now switched to gas and will not look back.

    1. I was interested in the electric mostly because it’s something that will spend the majority of its time sitting on a shelf in the shed. I have a need for a chainsaw maybe once a year, and then only for some light cutting.

    1. thefirstndsecond:

      That’s quite a bit of overkill for my purposes. I’m just looking for something to run the pump and fridge, with maybe a little left over for keeping the internets up and computers running.

  7. Go bigger on the generator. There are plenty of wattage calculators available on the web to help you determine your actual needs. Take the time, spend the money once. Transfer switches are the easiest, but the more expensive route. To save $$, get the model number of your distribution panel and find out if an interlock (lockout) is available. Then, replace the 2/4 section with a back feed breaker and select which circuits are critical to run. Mark them. run a10/3wire with a 30A twist lock to your generator location from the back feed circuit. Simple manual switch over for powering your critical requirements. An 8500 way generator will probably meet your needs for lights, heat, sump, and computers. The 4000 Watt might power your fridge / freezer and sump – but February gets might cold. (No idea what kind of heat source you have)

    No dynamo powered radios? Total fail, Sebastian. Buy at least two of the model you spec’d and a larger one like the American Red Cross FR1000. It has the added benefit of a siren and GMRS radio if you need to call for help. I have two of the model you mentioned, and the solar charger is crap – much easier and faster to crank the radio for power.A USB charged device drains the cell much faster than the solar cell can replace it.

    If you’re going to have a gas generator, your might as well have a 2 cycle chain saw. It will be much more capable than an electric model and you’ll already have fuel on hand. Check the survival blog for recommendations on stable mixing oil.

    On a related note – if you’re heat is an oil furnace, invest in a diesel powered generator instead of a gas. Your furnace oil is basically un-taxed diesel and a simple pump and “t” into your oil line will provide you with much more run time than a 10 – 11 hour tank. If you have natural gas or propane available, invest in a tri-fuel (diesel / LP/ LNG) generator for the most versatile.

    We were rather lucky in my section of PA – never lost power and very little flooding in a 5 mile radius. I did end up helping to clean up downed trees and minimal flooding at my local gun club, though.

  8. If the saw will only be used sporadically and then only for light use, I might suggest a good bow saw. I would still be concerned about using an electrical appliance in wet conditions.

  9. From the Hurricane belt:

    Unless you have something like a two foot tree to cut, a Fiskars bow saw will cut about as fast as a light chain saw. It’s cheap, muscle powered, cuts limbs at about six inches a minute, and you will want to find something to cover the teeth on the blade. A piece of scrap garden hose works fine.

    A cheap machete that has been well sharpened will do wonders during clean up as well. If you cannot sharpen it yourself, take it to the next gun show. Someone should be able to.

    If you do go with the chain saw, get one you can drain the tank on. Sour gas does not develop much power, and while Stabil works OK people tend to forget that the saw needs running a few times a year to keep the carburetor from gumming up. If you drain the tank and then run the carb dry every time you use it, you will avoid problems.

    Generators are a good investment – but from 32 days without power for experience buy one with a Honda engine. They keep on running when the others quit. And do remember to check the oil. Most dealers do not.

    A good radio is an absolute necessity, but too many functions increase the probability of failure. While I am well equipped with radios, the GE AM FM portable sitting next to the home office defense guns has been through three hurricanes. The batteries go in at the first warning, and come out when no longer needed.

    And finally, man I am glad you made it with no more trouble than you did.


  10. Having used both an electric and a gas saw, I’m now using a Ryobi 18″ 3.5 hp. The down side is you need electicity to use it. But it’ll keep cutting as long as you have electricity; and 4hp is a hell of a lot more then most gas saws have.

  11. Sebastian, a few weeks ago you deleted a post of mine for speculating about Joan Peterson’s reason for refusing to condemn the murderer of her sister.

    Now, in the comments to your post, “This Is Disappointing,” you have allowed a slander against Rick Perry to stand.

    Do you consider antigun weirdo Peterson to be off limits, but not the progun governor of Texas?

    Oh, and BTW–while Perry hasn’t been perfect, the Gardasil “controversy” basically consists of a bunch of superstitious vaccine deniers trying to put a conservative gloss on their luddite hippie beliefs.

    1. kenno,

      Look, if you have a beef with another commenter, argue it on that post. I can assure you that Sebastian has other things on his mind other than monitoring comments closely right now. We are currently trying to restore our basement to pre-storm conditions and upgrade our future storm preparations in the process. Excuse us while real life calls. All the posts and comments today have only been made during breaks between trying to put the basement back together and keeping an eye out on our trees that are dropping 5-foot+ branches when the wind gusts. Pardon him if he has some slightly different priorities right now.

  12. I have 2 crank radios. A Sony and the eton you mentioned. It also has a good flashlight. As to a generator, if you have natural gas, that is a better choice. Gas generators have to have gas. Can you store 50-100 gallons? If you have a disaster, you could be out of elec. for 10 days. I was several years ago in Austin. Just from a wind storm. Plus, if the elec. is out, how are you going to get gas? The pumps won’t work. And with the enviro-nazi’s limiting and closing generation capacity, there is the prospect of Iraq style rolling blackouts. Here’s the one I’m looking at.

  13. Sebastian,

    The cost difference between your targeted genny and one of a more robust capacity will be minimal. But, if you up your targeted aperage by about 50%, your genset won’t bog down under nominal loads, and will get much greater efficiency. In other words, a 8kw genny won’t work nearly as hard as a 4kw unit if both are pulling average loads in the 2.5kw to 3kw range.

    I want to endorse Skullz’ advice on the diesel genset, if you’ve got oil heating in the house. Diesel units just last longer, and the greater tourque makes for a more stable generator-head RPM.

    Similarly, Stranger is dead-on about the Honda engines for gasoline powered generators. And the bow-saw, too. I’ve cleared tons of minor deadfalls with one of those. Don’t just use a hose as a “blade guard”, but keep the blade oiled when you’re not using it. Rusty blades drag, badly.

    Let me add my own bit here. Buy lots of rechargeable batteries, and the chargers for ’em. Run them anytime the generator is running, without fail. Charge all your rechargeable devices, whenever possible.

    Sunk New Dawn
    Galveston, TX

  14. Consider getting your ham radio license. Things like cell service can go down in a storm, but a battery powered radio that doesn’t depend on infrastructure to work will always be available, assuming of course that you keep it charged up.

  15. Reference the genset suggestions; Bigger is better, 8000 watt is a good compromise. One thing to be aware of is noise level. Some gensets, particularly the inexpensive ones are very loud. When you run the genny for many hours, the noise gets to be quite irritating. So when you do your shopping, check out the noise level too. Also, I suggest using high quality motorcycle synthetic oil in the genny, Genny engines work hard & get hot, so a good oil is neccessary for long life.
    Living in south Florida, I’ve learned a little about gensets & their use.

  16. Ian Argent:

    Generally speaking, a 8kW – 12kW LP or NG generator will burn around 1 gallon per hour under a 50% load and 1.6GPH under a 90% load. A standard (grill sized) 50lb tank has about 24 gallons of LP in it. LP / NG generators that are sized to support a house are not portable and usually include all the transfer switching gear. They run from $2200 to over $15,000 plus installation and electrical work.

    Most homes that have LP or NG generators have and use LP or NG for stoves and heat and usually have a 100 gallon or 500 gallon tank or are piped for NG service.

    Portable LP generators are usually low output, ~3750 watts, but are also available as tri-fuel (diesel/lp/ng) capable.

    In a pinch, a small propane tank would work for under 1 day and as long as you know you need less than 3,750 watts, you’d be good.

    An interesting thought; would propane tanks be more available than gasoline during an extended power outage? There may not be power to pump the gas out of the tanks at the station, but it may be as simple as picking up a 50lb tank of propane and exchanging cash to keep an LP generator going.

    Refilling propane tanks would likely be impossible as the required electricity for the propane pump would be out too.

  17. I was looking at http://www.amazon.com/gp/aw/d/B004BKI0UW/ref=aw_ls_1_2?coliid=IJR28RID1CYM9&colid=3B6OVK1VGKKLK – 4 kw portable unit; runs off propane. My needs are to power 2x 9-amp sump pumps and the exhaust fans for my stream heating plant and my water heater. Adding the fridge would be nice. I use propane to grill and consequently already have 2 tanks on premises, one in use and one on deck. If I bought this I would keep a third tank for two in reserve at any one time. Based on historical outages, even the long ones are quite geographically restricted; refills should be available at reasonable travel radii, and if not, it’s colander-on-face time. The standby fixed units are 4 times that; and I can count the time we’ve been without power in minutes on one hand in this house.

  18. The easiest way to figure out what you need is to look at the face plate values for running wattage on each device you need to power. Add them up and you have your running wattage needs. Then find the starting wattage needs of each device, take the highest number and add that to your running wattage total. That’s the running generator wattage you need. Add some additional wattage to reduce the total running load (greater efficiency as the genny doesn’t have to work as hard), I like 30% but YMMV.

    Look for an interlock kit for your distribution panel and make sure you power each circuit one at a time and let each device start and stabilize before powering the next circuit.

    Fans and pumps have a surprisingly large starting wattage – sometimes as much as double the running wattage.

    Feel free to get my email from Sebastian if you’d like to take this conversation off his blog comments.

  19. Correction – a “grill sized” tank is 20lbs and holds 4.1 gallons of LP

  20. The pumps show amps, not Watts, so I was calculating load by amps * 115 volts nominal, and assuming a startup load of close to double the running load. 4kw won’t quite cover both starting up at the same time, but 800 Watts let my smaller (5-amp) start up, despite not quite covering double draw.
    If necessary, I only need to cover the draw of one pump – the second pump is necessary only because of an architectural oddity of my basement that would allow up to one inch of water to stand in a room that I keep nothing on the floor, before it would overtop the threshold and flow into the other room. Otherwise one French drain and sump would have been all that was necessary. (The systems were installed at various times, and the older one not by me, otherwise I would have had things done differently).

  21. I’d suggest a diesel generator. 1800 RPM vs 3600, less wear, less noise, and in a pinch you can make biodiesel out of WVO or heat up WVO and run it straight in a diesel.

    If you have some fabricating skills and a place to do it, you can get a salvage yard 4-cyl diesel and a ST generator head off e-bay, and build a 24KW genset for around 2500ish if you do most of the work yourself. The Chinese made ST heads are decent, so long as you re-pack the bearings in them. The grease they put in over there is crappy. It won’t be as pretty as this one, but it’s cheap in comparison. You could go smaller, but a 24KW will run a 100A house load. Figuring in for normal household use, air conditioning, heat, etc.

    Another handy thing is having a UPS for switchover, so you have light, and computer power until the generator starts up. A good cheap way to do that is to grab a UPS off e-bay sans batteries. I have a SUA1500 APC I got for $50 without batteries. Instead of putting the stock SLA batteries back in it I put 2 Wal-Mart trolling motor batteries in the closet, and ran some #8 AWG up to the UPS. I pulled the cover off the UPS and ran the Anderson connector out the back, plugged in to the batteries, and reprogrammed the firmware in the APC to tell it it had an external battery pack. The XL models and the standard models DO have the same firmware in them, so it’s easy to set them up for extra batteries. I now have a pure sine wave output UPS that will run a 500W load for 7 hours no problem. Remember if you use flooded batteries to put them somewhere hydrogen buildup won’t be a problem. The closet I have them in is vented through the attic.

  22. As an Aussie, I am ignorant wrt basements and water ingress into same, so take this as query not criticism.

    Your statement that you must buy a generator in order to keep the basement sump-pump running to prevent flooding sounds incredibly reactive.

    Would it not be better to be PRO-active and first stop the water getting in by sealing the walls of the basement?

  23. The Eton FR160 isn’t a bad choice, though I’m glad I spent an extra $20 at REI for the Eton Scorpion, which is another solar/dynamo AM/FM/NOAA radio. Digital tuning and IPX-4 splash resistance are, IMHO, worth the extra cost. If the disaster calls for drinking imported beer, the Scorpion also features a built-in bottle opener…. ;-)

  24. @Sendarius: sealing a pre-existing basement is an expensive proposition in earthmoving for a temporary benefit; if it’s at all structurally possible. You cannot seal the walls of the basement from the inside, at least not effectively.

    And the foundation of the house is designed to have earth around it – removing the earth so you can get to the outside of the basement walls to apply sealant there removes the support of the earth you just moved.

    And once you seal the basement, the physics and chemistry of water conspire to nibble away, molecule by molecule and then micrometer by micrometer &c (water is corrosive in the wild, and the physics of freezing means microscopically-small mall crack and holes will get larger every year).

    Cheaper and easier to dig a trench around the inside of the basement to guide the water into a sump, then pump out the sump when it gets full, and to get a standby chemically-driven power source to run the pumps in an emergency. It’s that last step that’s usually missed, is all.

    My acephalous poultry imitation over a chemically-driven power source was entirely a case of being a skinflint grasshopper in the period prior to the storm – I could have had the 4 kw generator mentioned above any time for the asking up til last week; and this would have been the 3rd major flood in my basement has I not added a french drain in June. Has I applied the difference between the quote and my job-cost ceiling on the french drain to buying the generator I would have been within $100 of my budget for the french drain alone.

  25. Most modern basements have extensive sealing to prevent that. But that’s pretty modern. My basement is 25 years old, which is before more modern building techniques that lead to pretty perfectly dry basements.

    In really old construction, basements are usually a little wet in high rain. Ones like mine are meant to channel that into a drain and then into a sump pit. Any sealant I could use now would eventually be breached.

  26. My basement is old enough to have landed at Normandy as a draftee, and had an addition put on my the lowest bidder where a crawlspace.used to be, except they didn’t fully excavate it and left a long “table” along one wall with dirt underneath and a fieldstone wall with now-crumbling mortar that leaks like a sieve. I’m not sure it’s possible to waterproof it from the outside, much less economically feasible.

    Modern building techniques, in this case, are those of the 21st century, as I know of even late-’90’s construction where floating basements are the waterproofing technique.

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