Phil at Random Nuclear Strikes offers his lessons learned from two winter days without power. It’s a great read all the way through, but I found one part especially interesting:
But the absolute star of the show was this item I call “The Jump Box”.
It is made by Husky and weighs around 15lbs. It has 3ft jumper cables and and an air compressor hose on the back. On the front, it has the air compressor controls, a light and, magically, a three-prong 110v plug with onboard inverter. This thing has, in the past, jump-started both Grimm and my 1998 F150 with nary a gripe. You just need to plug an extension cord into the back of it to charge up its super deep-cell battery. Takes about six to eight hours for a full charge.
I plugged a surge protector into the socket and charged my cell phone, ran two lamps, a portable CD Player, and a small space heater for 20 hours on a 4/5 charge (I had forgotten to fully charge it before the storm) and it still had over half a charge on it when the power came back on.
That same user also mentioned that he used the device to power his CPAP. I use a CPAP to treat my sleep apnea and I’ve been meaning to get an interruptible power supply for it. As long as these sort of things are OK for extended indoor use, I could use something like this for both UPS duty and emergency power use. Guess I’ll have to call the company.
Husky isn’t the only game in town for this sort of thing. Lots more jump starters here. Xantrex has this backup power source with DC, AC that goes to 600 watts, car battery cables, and radio and alarm clock.
Or you could go with a bigger portable power system, like the 1500 watt Xantrex. At $250 it’s still much cheaper than a generator, and with no dangers related to carbon monoxide poisoning or handling gasoline, and unlike a generator it’s silent and won’t attract attention. They’re also handy for apartment and condo dwellers who can’t keep gasoline around. Unlike a generator, though, portable power sources are limited to whatever charge it has when the lights go out, rather than to your gasoline supply. (UPDATE: Though come to think of it you can re-charge it off of your car’s cigarette lighter.) That’s probably OK by me. I don’t anticipate more than a couple of days without power where I am even with the worst winter storm, so this is probably a good tradeoff.
All of those systems are basically a car battery and inverter. An inverter by itself is smaller and costs less for the same wattage. Most inverters plug into the car’s cigarette lighter and convert the DC to AC. Used that way, they’re limited to 300 watts or so, but that may be all you need to charge a cell phone or laptop. I have this 400 watt model, which is only $24. A 700 watt model is $52. To use wattages above 300 you connect the inverter directly to the car battery’s terminals. Xantrex includes the necessary cables. The tradeoff is that inverters produce power in your car, rather than in your house, but that may be sufficient. As a bonus, you may find them useful for road trips.
Phil used the 400 watt Husky jumper to power an extremely tiny electric heater. I checked and the little space heater under my desk at work draws 1500 watts. In general, anything that produces heat – space heaters, microwave ovens, coffeemakers – will have a high wattage requirement. When in doubt, check the wattage rating printed on the electrical appliance. Note that many appliances draw more watts when they first start. Buying more inverter than you need never hurts, except in the wallet.
For heat, you’ll probably be happier with a wood fireplace or stove, or chemically-powered heater (kerosene, propane, etc.). For heat I’ve got a Mr. Heater that runs on either the one pound propane cylinders used for camping or 20 pound cylinders like the ones for BBQ grills.
- Previous entry on inverters