Tips for Basic Backup Power in a Power Outage or a SHTF Situation

Just about everyone has spent some time without electricity. Whether it was a storm that knocked the power out or something much bigger. Most of these situations are short term and, in most cases, the power company had it back on with a few hours or within a couple of days. But what would you do if you were without power for an extended period, say several weeks or months?

I am not going to go into electrical theory, building the perfect backup power system or any technical aspects of power and energy. This is intended as a guide to allow you to see what options are out there to power your life in a SHTF scenario.

Short Term Power Outage Tips

For power outages that last only a couple of days, I believe most of us have the supplies to get us through, at least I hope you do by now. A few extra batteries, flashlights, candles or clean burning oil lamps and some propane should do the job. As for lighting, LED lights are a great option due to their low power consumption and high output.

A Short List of Items That Can Be Handy in a Short-Term Power Outage

Panasonic Individual Battery Charger and Storage Case
Panasonic Individual Battery Charger and Storage Case

  • Fresh or Rechargeable Batteries
  • Flashlights or LED Lanterns
  • Candles the Larger the Better
  • Crank Powered Lights
  • Solar Yard Lights (often overlooked, these can be brought indoors at night)
  • Oil Lamps, be Sure to Use a Clean Burning Oil
  • NOAA Weather Radios with Fresh Batteries or Hand Crank
  • Backup Communication in case cell service is out
  • Extra gasoline and/or propane stored for A Generator
  • Extra Wood for a Fireplace in Cold Weather
  • Propane stove for heating water and cooking
  • Indoor rated propane heater such as the Mr. Heater Big Buddy Heater

Long Term Power Outages

Although most of us probably have enough camping supplies to get us through a couple of days, we want to think about long term power outages.

For long term power outages, you will have a couple different options:

  • Gas or Propane Generator
  • Solar Panels with Battery Backup

Each of the options above have their pros and their cons and if you really want to be prepared, I suggest you invest in both forms of power. But for now, let’s discuss what is needed for each type of power solution and the benefits of each.

Gas or Propane Generator

Honda EU2200i 2200-Watt 120-Volt Super Quiet Portable Inverter Generator
Honda EU2200i 2200-Watt 120-Volt Super Quiet Portable Inverter Generator


Generators have come a long way since their inception. They’re more fuel efficient and many can run on multiple fuels such as gasoline and propane. Further, you can purchase a portable generator that will power a few appliances such as your refrigerator to save food spoilage or, you could spend much more for a whole house generator that can power much, much more.

The Pros of Generators in a SHTF Situation

  • When well maintained, they can provide hours of power with low fuel consumption.
  • You can have your backup power up and running in seconds.
  • They can run larger appliances such as refrigerators, freezers, fans and certain heaters.
  • Many generators come with inverters already installed. Inverters convert a 12-volt DC current to a household standard 120 volts AC.

The Cons of Generators in a SHTF Situation

Generator exhaust in shtf
Generator exhaust in shtf
  • You will have to store fuel for your generator and that could take up space you don’t have, and it can be dangerous if not stored properly. You will want to store the fuel far away from your shelter.
  • In a true SHTF situation, you really don’t want to be noticed. Generators put out noise that could let others (often the wrong people) know you have power. This is especially evident if you live in the suburbs.
  • No matter what generator you buy, you will need to provide routine maintenance. A lack of maintenance could spell disaster in a disaster.
  • In a long term SHTF situation, fuel will eventually run out.
  • Generators emit fumes that are harmful when inhaled. You can’t run your generator in an enclosed area, so you are vulnerable when run outside.
  • Finding parts in a SHTF situation will be almost impossible.

Solar Power in a Grid Down Situation

Renogy 100 Watts 12 Volts Monocrystalline Solar Starter Kit
Renogy 100 Watts 12 Volts Monocrystalline Solar Starter Kit

Like generators, solar has also made big advances over the years. The quality of the equipment, the efficiency, and the price have all got better. I believe that solar, at some point, will become more common in new home builds than it is today. I would recommend some sort of solar charge system whether you go big or just enough to charge a 12-volt battery for a few days of backup power. There are a lot of appliances and tools that can run on 12 volt DC.

The Pros of Solar in a SHTF Situation

  • Solar is a clean power source releasing no fumes.
  • Solar power is stealthy, it’s a quiet power source.
  • Solar doesn’t need a stored source of fuel, your fuel is the sun and for now, that is free.
  • For the most part, solar setups are maintenance free.
  • Typically, solar panels output about 18 volts DC, making them ideal for charging 12-volt batteries in your battery bank. The 18-volt output will compensate for cloudy weather.

The Cons of Solar in a SHTF Situation

  • Larger upfront cost.
  • Battery banks must be replaced over time.
  • You may need other items to make it all work such as inverters, wire and other supplies.

Typical Power Consumption of Common Household Appliances

Appliance Watts
Air Conditioner
  Room 1000
  Central 2000 – 5000
Air Conditioners rated in tons
  Per Ton 3517
  e.g., 5 Ton AC Unit 17585
Blender 300
Blow Dryer 1000 – 1500
CB Radio 5
Computer
  Laptop 20 – 75
  Desktop PC 80 – 200
  Printer 100
Coffee Maker 800
Clock Radio 1
Dishwasher 1200 – 1500
Dryer (Clothes)
  Electric 4000
  Gas Heated 300 – 400
Electric Blanket 200
Electric Clock 1
Electric Frying Pan 1200
  Conventional 14cf
(15 hrs/day runtime)
445
Furnace Blower 300 – 1000
Garage Door Opener 350
Lightbulbs
  Incandescent Bulbs CFL Bulbs
Microwave 600 – 1500
Refrigerator/Freezer (runtime in hours/day)
  Conventional 20cf (15) 540
  Conventional 16cf (15) 475
Sewing Machine 100
Table Fan 10 – 25
Tools
  1/4″ drill 250
  1/2″ drill 750
  1″ drill 1000
  9″ disc sander 1200
  3″ belt sander 1000
  12″ chain saw 1100
  14″ band saw 1100
  7 1/4″ circular saw 900
  8 1/4″ circular saw 1400
Vacuum Cleaner
  Upright 200 – 700
  Hand 150
Washing Machine 500

How do I Calculate how Much Power I Will Need?

To calculate your estimated energy use over time, just multiply the power consumption of the appliance by the hours of intended use. A 20W (watts) TV for example, on for 2 hours, will require 20 x 2 = 40WH (watt hours) from the battery.

Replicate this for each appliance you intend to use and then add the results to your total consumption.

What Will I Need to Build a Backup Generator System?

  • A Generator
  • Fuel and fuel storage (Gas or Propane)
  • Miscellaneous spare parts (Spark plugs, air cleaner etc.)
  • If you choose to get a whole house generator system, I suggest you have a professional install it. It will involve tapping into your home electrical system.
  • Extension cords (heavy duty is recommended)

What Will You Need to Build a Backup Solar System?

  • Solar panels
  • Charge Controller – A charge controller limits the rate at within electrical current is drawn or charged to the batteries. They prevent overcharging your batteries that could damage or shorten their lifespan.
  • Battery Bank – The battery bank is used to store the solar power you obtain during the day. You can then use the stored power in low light situations.
  • Inverter – A 2,000-watt voltage inverter provides adequate power to run many home appliance or power tools.

Finally

If you are already prepared for long term power outages, congratulation. If you are already living off the grid, even more power to you (no pun intended). Remember, when choosing a power source, make sure you figure out how much power you will need and plan accordingly.

Both systems can make life easier when the SHTF but combining a generator with solar would be best if you can afford it. As a final note, it is always recommended that you buy more power than you think you will need. It’s better to have it and not need it than need it and not have it.