Electricity backup

Generator – 1.8kv of orangeness
© Sweaty Dave, Going Postal 2021.

Avoiding blackouts

If you keep a sceptical eye upon the media, you will have seen a few scare stories recently around the fragility of the national grid and this coming winter. Our betters, having closed all the coal power stations are now seeing the consequence of their idiocy, with a real possibility of rolling powercuts should we have some cold, still, dark winter days – something pretty much guaranteed in the coming  months.

Having seen the damage caused by long and widespread power cuts to Texas last year – many burst pipes, flooding, people freezing I decided to look at ensuring that we could cope without power occasionally or on a longer basis with some simple additions to the house. We have a gas fire that would work and keep one room warm, but gas central heating needs power to run the pump and of course you have the danger of freezers defrosting etc. You could say ‘oh it’d never happen here’ – yet Storm Arwen was a week ago and many are still without power – even in urban areas it took three days to reconnect the street next to us after a tree took down their powerlines. With sub-zero weather it is not just the contents of the freezer that is at risk, but the entire water system in the house – for taps and radiators. Once a thaw ensures a lot of damage can appear. Add to that the discomfort and with elderly relatives nearby I thought it sensible to have an insurance policy.

I recently bought a generator from screwfix – 1.8kw of power for £199  (an IMPAX IM1800IFG – get them before they go). Not the most powerful generator in the world, but for the offchance of outages enough to get us through.  1.8kw should be enough to keep the freezers going (they’re not big or clever) and run that heating pump either at the same time or instead. It claims to be full phase so suitable for sensitive electronics like phone chargers and the broadband router. It also revs up and down to match the load, so not full on unless needed. We find that during the summer, when the solar panels are generating, the meter can come to a complete stop when it is producing around 2-3kw, even with the kids in the house.

Normally I’d assume in a power cut I’d dig the generator out of the shed, run it outside so we don’t die of fumes, with an extension cable running through a window and plugging the relevant freezer into that. There is another option – have a way of feeding the power into the home circuits. A socket installed by a professional electrician that goes through the fuse board and your house is as if there is no powercut. It does mean banning hairdryers/kettle/oven etc as they’ll overload it, but it would mean the heating and lights could run.

As I say it involves getting an electrician to install a switch – you can’t feed power into the house while it is connected to the grid as the might disagree and bang! There are many and varied options available, I went for a £30 Changeover switch in a waterproof box – hugely overrated for the task, but robust and can be mounted on the wall next to the fuse box (which is in our garage).

I then had the electrician to run a main tailing between the meter and the fuse box and to add a socket for the power from the generator, that switch then feeds the house either from the generator or the mains, not both. He checked it was a ‘3 phase switch’ so you couldn’t end up with both connecting at once and wanted to use a metal rather than plastic box to conform with latest regs. The socket is the sort that you have at caravan sites – I make a cable with a 13amp plug on one end (connecting to the generator) and the caravan end plugs into the socket feeding this box.

Changeover switch
Not much of a looker but swaps between the socket on the left or the mains supply © Sweaty Dave, Going Postal 2021.

The generator should be outside due to those fumes, it also needs a grounding spike – an earth wire to a metal peg in the ground. So it needs to be sheltered a little, in a secure place – you don’t want those post-covid zombies coming round and nicking it! It is clever enough to tick over until needed and only run up in power when demand is there.

A can of petrol and some oil and the thing is ready to go. A makeshift cover made of an old dumpy bag over the crate that paving was delivered in gives protection from rain. A normal 2kw extension cable runs through to the fuse board and the short lead connects it to the box. Flick that switch and… success! The generator initially idled, but once the first of the fuses was switched it jumped into life, increasing with each one. With the house fairly quiet it was running at 6 amps of power – I must find out what’s been left on – adding the central heating pump made no difference.

Interestingly the electrician said I wasn’t the only person asking for this sort of setup, the storm has made many consider just what backup they have. Pity those living in electricity only houses with no other source of heat – they will suffer in the future.

So total cost of the project £350, a bit of peace of mind and an excuse to buy more toys!

© Sweaty Dave 2021

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