Going Off Grid – Part III

After we had established the ability to heat our home in an emergency with a wood burning fireplace, my wife and I decided that back up power would be the next logical step.  Unsure about the current state of solar technology, we decided to look into a stand by generator.


This is Part III of a series of posts.  To read Part I (click here)

Why Back Up Power?

Until you have been through a SHTF event such as Hurricane Sandy or Katrina, you will have a hard time appreciating what it means to be without power.  Especially while sitting in your climate controlled home, sipping on either a hot or ice cold drink while eating fresh food pulled from your refrigerator….oh ya, and reading this article on SurvivalCache.com from your tablet.  The graphic below tells a haunting tale.  In 2005 Hurricane Katrina, after more than three weeks, one-quarter of all Louisiana residents were still without power from the electrical grid or 2.7 million people for those playing at home.  I was shocked by this statistic.

back up home generator

Research

When my wife and I first starting researching the topic of back up power (2009), solar made a lot of sense to us.  We get a lot of sun at our home, it is renewable and the systems themselves seemed to have come a long ways.  The solar companies we spoke with at the time, told me that I basically had two choices with solar.  One, a completely off grid solution, where we would no longer be tied to the grid for any power and would have to completely rely on battery power.  Or choice number two, a grid tied system where we would be selling unused power back to the utility but if the power went down, we would be without power as well.  The downside at the time with the completely off-grid system was that the battery life wasn’t that great.  We were told in 2009 that we would probably have to plan on replacing the batteries within 10 years.

My wife and I were not quite ready to make the big jump to a completely off grid system and the investment was substantial at that time, somewhere in the neighborhood of $25,000 for the system that we wanted.  Keep in mind that there was a chance that we would have to replace the batteries within 10 years, which would have been $7 to $10,000 more.  With this in mind, we decided against solar.  They now have new “Grid Tied Back-Up” systems which weren’t available to me at the time.  Based on current rebates and incentives, we might make a different decision today.

Grid Tied Battery Backup

The Stand By Generator

With solar power both out of my price range and not currently available in a “Grid Tied Back-Up” system (2009), I decided to research Kohler Stand By Generator Reviewstand by generators.  The portable generators to me seemed like a waste of time.  We did not want to mess around with extension cords and trying to store large amounts of extra gasoline or diesel to fuel the portable generator.  Also, if I was out of town, my wife would not have to mess with the back up generator while trying to manage children.  The nice thing about stand by generators are that they are tied into natural gas or a propane tank, which kicks in moments after your grid tied power goes off, powering your whole home or critical areas of your electrical panel that you choose.

The portable generators might be a better fit for some, but for me they were just not an option.  In my mind, my portable generator off grid survival back up powerwould be my truck and I would be bugging out.  If I had use extension cords to run my fridge, furnace, etc. and worry about getting gas every 10 hours to refill the generator.  I would rather bug out to a location with power because for me, the portable generator would neither be a good short term solution nor a long term solution if the power was out for multiple days or more.  You are still relying on gasoline, which does not store well and can be a problem to find in a disaster.  Of course, all of that convenience of a stand by generator comes at a price that you will pay for both with the generator itself and the professional installation.  That is the trade off.

The Brands

There seems to be several players in the stand by generator market place.  The ones you will hear most about are Generac, Kohler, Kohler 20KW Generator ReviewGeneral Electric, Cummins Power, and Briggs & Stratton.  All of the brands seem to have their pros and cons.  And all seem to be a quality product that will work well for your home.  Generac has the largest market share and you can find them at Lowes, Home Depot, Costco, and about every hardware store you come across.  With the largest market share sometimes comes the most problems or complaints.  You don’t have to dig very far to find that some people have had issues with Generac or that the company has made unsubstantiated claims.  It is not to say that Generac is not a quality product, I just believe that they are the Chevrolet of the stand by generator world.  After doing exhausting research it came down to two brands, Generac and Kohler.  After spending time in different forums, speaking to other home owners and electricians, I finally decided on Kohler because they seemed to have the best reputation along with the most experience building engines and specializing in power.  I believe that any of the above mentioned brands will work well, I just decided on Kohler.

Related Article: Grid Down Survival

The Size and Installation

One of the things which we had to determine was the size of our generator.  There are a lot of factors that go in to determining which size generator you will need for your home.  Will you require your generator to run your air conditioning?  How large is your home?  Do you need to power your whole home or just the basics (heat, refrigerator, lights, etc.)?  Fortunately there are online questionnaires, such as this one from Kohler (Click Here), which will walk you through the basics of determining your stand by generator size.   After talking with the local supplier and doing a questionnaire, we ended up going with a Kohler 20KW series generator.

The installation involved both an electrician and a plumber.  I would recommend getting an electrician who is recommended by the generac vs kohler reviewsupplier as someone who has installed generators before and knows how to set them up and test them.  That electrician might have a plumber who can come the same day and do the whole installation all at once including the gas lines.  I did speak with another local electrician and told him that I was thinking about a stand by generator.  He told me that he had never installed one but thought that he “could figure it out.”  Based on that conversation, I went with the electrician that was recommended by the local supplier who had experience installing Kohler generators.  Never use an electrician without proper experience or training.

The installation went great.  I had no issues.  I can report back that after three years, I have had no issues with the Kohler 20KW Generator and that it has performed as advertised many times during power outages.  The longest outage being about 15 hours.  The generator also kicks on every week for 20 minutes to run a self test.  You can select a time and day of the week that works best for you.  I went with Saturday mornings at 9:00am, when I am most likely to be home and hear the generator kick on and run the self test.

Yearly maintenance on the Kohler generator includes an oil & filter change.  If you run your generator for an extended period of time, you might need to change oil and filter more often.  I can report back that changing the oil is a major pain in the ass.  Removing the front cover to get to the drain plug is a little more difficult than it needs to be and is something that should be addressed by Kohler.  Also, depending on the slope of the terrain you set the generator on (the most level you can find – or a poured slab), you might have to use a siphon to remove the oil.  This was case for me, gravity did not work to remove all of the oil so we had to siphon the remainder out of the generator.

Sound of Freedom

Although stand by generators are not cheap, when the power goes out and you hear the generator kick on, there is no better sound in Stand by generator reviewthe world.  We have not been involved in a major SHTF event which required long term back up power, but from what I have read online, those who had stand by generators before Sandy and Katrina where forever grateful.  They also assisted their neighbors with hot showers and warm food during the crisis.  If at least one home on every block (or a neighborhood church) had a stand by generator, it could go a long ways towards alleviating the strained government resources during a major crisis.

Stay Tuned for Going Off Grid Part IV – The Wood Boiler

Photos & Graphics by:
Professional Shooter
Virginia Tom
Sunscape Solar
Popular Mechanics



Joel Jefferson
Written by Joel Jefferson

Joel is one of the original founders of SurvivalCache.com. After college, he joined the USMC where he served as an (0302) Marine Infantry Officer. Joel is an avid outdoorsman and spends much of his free time in the mountains. Joel’s hobby is researching survival gear & weapons as well as prepping. Read his full interview here. Read more of Joel's articles.

12 thoughts on “Going Off Grid – Part III”

  1. My portable generator works just fine, I have never experienced a long term outage but we store about 50 gallons of gas that we rotate every year.

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  2. No better sound in the world than your generator running, no doubt your neighbors (honest or otherwise) will agree; OPSEC out the window! In a 'real' SHTF event, you'll probably run out of fuel quickly, especially if you're trying to be 'Mr. nice guy' and take care of your neighbors too! What is wrong with more primitive means and methods? A wood/coal stove will provide both home heat and cooking fire, and both fuels are readily available now, easily stored, and much more likely to be available after SHTF than natural gas or propane. Assuming these (natural) fuels would come from a on-property tank (out-side the home), wouldn't these be a very attractive target as well! Most people/survivors would be relying on wood/coal so your wood pile would be less likely to provoke envy and/or violence! Candles and/or kerosene or propane lanterns will provide plenty of light and are easy to store (5-gallon buckets work well); fire danger, sure, but electricity causes fires too and aren't you putting all your eggs in one basket with a generator, really doubt the repairman will make house calls after SHTF. If you're only worried about your electrified comfort and can afford all the whistles and bells, then go for it, but don't be surprised when you become a major target SHTF! On the other hand, if you and your neighbors already have a mutual defense/aid agreement, then a generator could be a great asset, but fuel may still be a problem! Still, keep your powder dry, you'll probably need it! Good Luck!

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  3. Here in South Florida during the Summer months is when we have our Hurricane Season, it is hotter than blazes and having a wood fired stove is non-sense. A coal or propane grill makes sense for cooking, and a generator for power is quite a luxury. Most just put up with the loss and open the windows and actually go outside for a change and meet ones neighbors. Surprisingly most of them are pretty nice people, lol! The problem with gasoline fired generators is that the electric that runs the gas stations is down so if you have 50 or 60 gallons of gas it is depleted after 4 or 5 days, party over. Whereas if you have a large propane tank installed you can have power for weeks and the propane may be able to be delivered by that time if power hasn't yet been restored. Propane fired generators seem best and at least a 10 or 12 KW for the average 3/2 home here, it should run your a/c, fridge, and lights.

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  4. WE are installing a grid tied system of 8KW. We are using SMA Inverters which have a standard 110 Volt outlet connected full time. If the grid go's down.We switch a switch and have 2 , 1500 watt outlets during the day. WE are planning to add 4-6volt batteries (cost total $1200.00 for4) 1100 amp hrs. Will use standard 110v battery charger when grid is up then plug into the SMA to recharge during the day. This will keep the lights on,T.V. and keep the beer cold. Generators are nice but storing fuel is a pain and dangerous.Nothing is perfect……..Food for thought…8 KW will make my electric zero at the end of the year..

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  5. I recently purchased my first home(one previous owner) and it already had a 7 kW Generac natural gas stand by generator. I know that the original owner paid 4 figures for the equipment, and I can only imagine at least another $500-$1000 for labor and miscellaneous materials for the installation. That's a hefty investment, however, it does pay back over time. Consider the money you save when the power goes down and you're still able to wash and dry your own clothes rather than burning gas in your vehicle to go down to the nearest laundromat that has power to do your laundry. Consider the money you save when all of the food in your refrigerator and freezer(s) is able to be saved. Consider the money you save when you're still able to eat the food you already paid for, instead of being forced to resort to burning your gas in your vehicle so you can go out to eat in restaurants. Consider the positive effects of running a couple of extension cords from your house to your next door neighbors so they can keep their refrigerators running or can run a load of laundry. You can be sure they're going to be grateful and when prepping, having people on your side is just as important, if not more so, than acquiring goods and skills personally.

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  6. What the author does not say, is the fuel costs. ie..what volume does the "propane tank need to be. ..for one month continuous/ acceptable use, ? and is there an option where one could run it for a specified number of hours in a 24/to "stretch "supplies in a long term situation…We have NG, but don't wish all our eggs in one basket..

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  7. I am a Navy Aircraft Electrician, and I mean to tell you that everything has tradeoffs. First, being tied to the grid makes you more susceptible during an EMP. Generators are noisy, fuel dependent and thus much more finite. However, wind and (much more so) solar are quiet, renewable (ongoing) and (if not tied to the grid) much easier to isolate and "shield" from an EMP. Besides, I was stationed in NOLA right after Katrina, and guess what? Without power, natural gas doesn't flow. At least it didn't in E. Plaquemines post Katrina. NG generators worked fine in MD for Isabelle, but power was only out for a week and the affected areas were limited. Good article, but not a one size fits all for sure.

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  8. Good info. Thanks. But the author addresses not so much choosing to go off grid but getting kicked off the grid. With that said, the difference between inconvenience and survival is stark. Honestly, in a survival situation I have no need for 1500 watts let alone another mouth to feed. If things do go deeply dark, I'm not sure I will allow my neighbor to attract the wolves to my neighborhood with generator noise and lights…if you know what I mean. But the article is great advice for the "72 hour prepper."

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  9. As the Author mentioned Solar systems are expensive, especially whole house off grid systems and whole house grid tie back-up systems. What you could do if you do not have the $$$ for a Full Whole House system is just get a couple of panels and some batteries as a starter system to cut your monthly electric bill a little bit and also act as an emergency back-up when the power goes out to run the essentials such as refrigerator, freezer, heat, stove/oven, A/C and a couple of lights. That type of a system may only last you about 24 hours, but then the sun will come out and charge the batteries back up. Hopefully you do not get a long period of cloudy weather, which will limit the amount of charge.

    That is why I always say redundancy!! Have several forms of power generation: Solar, Wind, Water, Human Powered, Animal Powered, and/or a Generator (Diesel, LPG). Yes I know it takes $$$ to make sure you have all of this redundancy! But you can do a little at a time for not much money. You just have to look around and do your research!

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  10. The 8kw-12kw range runs almost 2 gallons an hour on LPG at a full load (per several spec sheets from diff mfgers), a diesel runs about .7-1 gallon per hour (rough approximations per same size gen specs and diff mfgers). Diesel and LPG in my neck of the woods are very similar in price, which would make the diesel the better choice. Good diesel engines are rated in 10s of thousands of hours with proper maint. I already have a diesel tractor and a 150 gal. tank of diesel. At 3 hours a day that would be 50 days. A medium sized off grid system (doesn't mean YOU are off grid necessarily) of batteries with PVs AND a diesel gen to keep them topped off, would extend the life of the batteries (with good maintenance, cycling and regulation). Battery life is a function of use and discharge cycles, so less equals more life cycle. If you wanted the convenience of grid power (w/o a grid tied backup system…real pain in the ass most places) and have a reliable, mostly PV/batts, AND the potential for whole house support with a diesel generator, you would be able to extend any fuel reserves because of PV/batts and use the gen for cloudy days or higher energy, short term needs. The misconception here by most is trying to run the whole house 24/7 WITH a/c….seriously? Freezers (full ones, use empty pop bottles 3/4 full of water) will stay well frozen with 2-4 hours a day of run time just on a generator. Organize opening the refer and the freezer to an absoluter minimum and can the a/c and open the windows and use fans. As far as washers they are high end users but kinda okay if you must, dryers????….get a clothes line and hang them outside…you'll never believe how good they will smell. You shouldn't live in high density places, just MHO. As far as any neighbors "allowing" me to run my generator, don't bother coming by, you'll need a pack of quick-clot or you'll have a tee-post shoved up your @$$. My property, my generator, my decision. Of course, I would have the generator in a very quiet housing and I have lots of woods and the nearest neighbor is 600 yds away. Live in a BOL. The key to the longevity of fuel is to not try and act like nothing is wrong and use all the electricity you can, that's one of the reasons we are in this mess. Be well.

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  11. Had a winter storm come through Midwest town I lived in a few years ago. A lot of rain then freezing temps and finally 60 mph winds. Snapped every power line and power pole in the county. Not kidding. Was without power for 5 days. Middle of winter. I vowed right then and there no more going days without power. First thing I did was have an experienced electrician come to my house and wire up a transfer switch so I can now just plug it into the generator and run it. Yes pouring gas every 8 hours will be a pain in the butt but so will freezing to death

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