Adventures In Power Outage Hacking

The best type of power outage is no power outage, but they will inevitably happen. When they do, a hacker with a house full of stuff and a head full of ideas is often the person of the hour. Or the day, or perhaps the week, should the outage last long past the fun little adventure phase and become a nuisance or even an outright emergency.

Such was the position that [FFcossag] found himself in at the beginning of January, when a freak storm knocked out power to his community on a remote island in the middle of the Baltic Sea. [FFcossag] documented his attempts to survive the eight-day outage in vlog form, and although each entry is fairly long, there’s a lot to be learned from his ordeal. His main asset was a wood cook stove in the basement of the house, which served as his heat source. He used a car radiator and a small water pump to get some heat upstairs – a battery bank provided the power for that, at least for a while. The system evolved over the outage and became surprisingly good at keeping the upstairs warm.

The power eventually came back on, but to add insult to injury, almost as soon as it did, the ground-source heat pump in the house went on the fritz. A little sleuthing revealed an open power resistor in the heat pump control panel, but without a replacement on hand, [FFcossag] improvised. Parts from a 30-year-old TV transmitter were close at hand, including a nice handful of power resistors. A small parallel network gave the correct value and the heat pump came back online.

All in all, it was a long, cold week for [FFcossag], but he probably fared better than his neighbors. Want to be as prepared for your next outage? Check out [Jenny]’s comprehensive guide.

Thanks to [sudos] for the tip.

33 thoughts on “Adventures In Power Outage Hacking

  1. “His main asset was a wood cook stove in the basement of the house”

    His main asset was having a bazillon UPS’s and over sized battery banks in various rooms around his house.

          1. *Power goes out*

            “Sorry, before you can use your UPS, you will need to update you Samsung Home Health application, your Samsung Remote Monitoring application and your Samsung Totally Useless app that the UPS requires to run”

      1. “the water in the pipes from freezing”

        1) insulation – if pipes freezing inside your home is a problem, you need some. On the house and the pipes.
        2) pipe trace heating – doesn’t need to run 24/7. just keep pipes above 0, goes inside the pipe insulation…

        1. Um…. It is -23F and 10MPH winds where I’m at right now. Insulation isn’t going to buy you much time without an active heat source. I’ve never seen pipe trace heating done in residential around here, but I’m not an expert.

          1. I saw what happens to a heating system freezing in a hotel once, basically the system was poorly implemented so the last few radiators on the loop was able to freeze briefly every night in the dead of winter (think The Shining size hotel) and basically the heating system was not able to get though the ice build up, eventually enough ice splits at least one pipe and then any hot water that gets though ends up out of the system freezing.

            the fix was tearing down walls to find every single pipe, fixing every leak then covering them in foam insulation then expansion foam over and around that. Then it didn’t matter that the last few radiators on the loop where a little too far, there was enough heat kept in the system that they got cold but could never freeze.

            (2 years later the whole building was torn down)

          2. One assume you get that termperature every year and you are prepared for it?
            I have lived in such climates but not right now, but have some idea of what is needed to deal with it.
            In those types of places a “wood heat stove” is still not an asset. It’s a requirement.
            The UPS system is by definition an asset, but not the stove.

            But would still be insulated a lot. I think you under estimate the power of GOOD insulation and the reasons. It keeps the heat in so you need less of a heat source ie: fuel lasts longer. Or electricity.

  2. I’ve got to say, “living on an island” sounds like an excellent reason to have a backup generator. Even if you can’t afford a whole-house automatic system (they are quite expensive), even a small portable unit would be better than using a bunch of UPSs.

    1. He has a 48V solar array which should have lasted him quite a long while with the loads needed to run the essentials… but a couple packs went short and brought it down early and severely hampered the output. He did a quick fix to get some juice out of some standby cells… again, with telecom parts.

  3. This is so predictable: “solar-this”; “UPS-that”… Where’s the Raspberry Pi? Where’s the suggestion for a solar-charged Tesla?

    The only thing which will force you to be serious about this subject is to have to be prepared all the time for lengthy power outages–at least once, and maybe even two to three times per year.

    The ONLY thing which provides serious heat is a flame. Two 23000 BTU kerosene heaters.One 20 000 BTU propane heater (my needs don’t require all three be used together). Propane grill for cooking (out on the outdoors deck, of course). And a very strict and STRINGENT replacement strategy for propane and kerosene–when they are NOT needed [and just in case you don’t know–kerosene is MUCH safer than propane].
    $289.00 (on sale at Harbor Freight) for a 4 KW (continuous) very good generator which runs the well pump, for water for the much-needed coffee, and for flushing toilets; and provides for some miscellaneous electrical needs with some manual load management down at the panel.
    Basic lighting needs are provided by kerosene lamps; they are amazingly bright and efficient.
    I also have collected, and keep on ‘maintenance charge’, three very healthy auto-class 12-v batteries which are needed for miscellaneous 12-volt duty. They can be maintained by the 4KW generator.

    Make absolutely certain that the first thing you do is DISCONNECT THE PANEL’S MAIN BREAKER! or even REMOVE THE METER! I know that’s illegal under NORMAL circumstances, but believe me, the power company will understand–as well as appreciating the fact that you cared enough to NOT kill any of their people by feeding your generator’s output back down the lines.
    I’m saving my pennies for a healthy UPS for my WiFi router in order to maintain my sanity during the outages–the last one was for eight days. Fortunately the phone lines usually stay intact.

    Stay warm. Stay safe.

    1. Anyone having that much problem with the reliability of the power supply can invest in a 1,000 gallon LPG tank, and a whole house generator (which basically is an ICE/generator combo). Save all the rest for when one’s living in an island nation with a poor infrastructure (hard to get fuels like gas, or kerosene, etc) and a hurricane’s just came through. ;-)

  4. I have installed a pair permanently plumbed vent free propane heaters, one at each end of the house. You need to read the manual and verify you have enough open space for the number of BTU you have. These do burn he oxygen in the room. I would not call these dangerous, but you should definitely read the manual and understand what you are working with. They keep the house warm if we loose power. We use propane for hot water and cooking.

    I have a little 1.2KW 2 cycle generator that I can fire up and that powers the living room, our tv, stereo, internet stuff, notebooks, and a couple LED lamps. All that stuff feeds from one power strip that is easy to move from the wall socket to a semi permanent extension cord that goes out to the doghouse the generator lives in. I actually have 2 of the little generators and one will also run the fridge and freezer one at a time, but the power has not been off for long enough for that to have ever been an issue.

    In an odd way we are lucky, we have sulfur water from our deep well. The gas bubbles out of it after standing a few days so we always have gallons of water ageing. We also have a pond and a shallow well with a pitcher pump. The shallow well freezes up in the winter, but we have an aeration windmill on the pond and that keeps a hole unfrozen pretty much all winter long, much to the joy of the geese. I hope I did that right…

    I have often thought it would be really cool if I had a larger generator with a water cooled engine to have some valves so in the winter, I could run the hot water through radiators in the house and make use of the waste heat from the engine.

    1. …I have often thought it would be really cool if I had a larger generator with a water cooled engine to have some valves so in the winter, I could run the hot water through radiators in the house and make use of the waste heat from the engine.”

      I think it was Honda (apologies if it was someone else) who actually had a completely, totally engineered solution for home electricity and hot-water generation built around a 4-cylinder OHV engine. It was, and still is, a great idea. Just not enough market, then, for mass production, but YOU go for it!. Major detail I do remember: maintenance interval is greatly improved by using propane, natural gas, or LNG due to NOT burning gasoline–oil and bearings last a LOT longer. Same arguments apply–at least to bearings–when using a diesel engine. What this proves is that your idea is imminently “do-able”. Again–GO FOR IT.

      Best of luck!

  5. In fact it’s far easier than all of this…. your CAR is a perfect generator to run the essentials of your house, for hours or days 50-70 hours. Your vehicle can easily provide up to 1000 watts, enough to run your gas furnace, fridge, sump pump ,etc… It uses LESS gas, and is environmentally cleaner, more reliable, and just a smarter idea all around, if you can live with a modest amount of power and not run your hot tub and walk in wine cellar during a blackout. Winner of Dragons Den $100,000 with two dragons, Oct 2018 check it out.

    1. MOST people don’t have gas furnaces any more.
      This can’t provide the heat needed in a power outage if you DON’t HAVE a gas furnace.
      Even then, this has enough capacity to handle the huge surge starting current of the blower motor–typically ten times or more than the running current? Highly doubtful.

        1. I don’t need to “…check it out…”.
          What I said, stands. Most people do not have gas furnaces any more, so this provides no help for most peoples’ heating needs during a black-out.
          I am also an electrical engineer, with a solid background in AC machinery. How about addressing this device’s ability to START my 3/4 HP well pump?

          Some technical info, please: is this a 1 KW–continuous–inverter? Is the output a true sine wave, or modified sine wave? Does it have a 220/240 vac output? Thanks.

          1. you raise a good point – how many people heat with gas/oil as opposed to electric? That seems to vary by region. Where are you located that “most people do not have gas furnaces any more”? Here in Ontario the vast majority heat their homes with gas as the primary heat source. Electric heat is easier and cleaner but forces you into needing a very large backup generator in order to heat your house during a power outage, unless you also prepare other standby heat sources like wood, pellet stove, etc. The internal power unit inside CarGenerator is a pure sine wave 1000w inverter with a 2000w start surge capacity. It’s very similar to the pure sine wave inverter available from Home Depot for $295. For another $100 at $395 fully assembled we match it with heat proof pure copper strand booster cables custom manufactured by EastPenn/Deka, and we add a voltmeter, mounting strap to hang it on your car and rubber backing to not scratch your vehicle. Then for another $300 at $695 we take all of this and wrap it in a custom housing which is both rain/ice/snow weatherproof but yet robustly ventilated to run summer or winter and stay both dry and properly cooled. Here are the full product specs: We also have a 240 volt version available for an extra $100. thanks.

  6. I’ve had a weatherproof outlet wired in to my main breaker cabinet on the bridge fuse in every place I’ve owned. Then I just plug in a solar battery bank or a big gas generator without a single tool after flipping off meter input..

    Most people with a lot of money go the propane auto-backup solution that goes at least a week..

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