Picture the scene. It’s Friday night. The wind’s ripping so fast your gutters are whistling. Rain is playing your windows like a snare drum. Just a few degrees colder and it would snow.
Then it happens.
The lights flicker. They’re off for just a few seconds.
Then they do it again. But this time, they don’t come back on. It’s dark… and quiet.
We’ve all been here. It’s not the storm of the century. The grid hasn’t failed. Most likely, a transformer spilled its guts down the street.
There are no mobs headed your way. The food supply is safe. Civilization is just fine.
But still, you’re out of juice… and you’ve got things to do.
This is the sort of situation where many folks – especially the rural folks – would head outside and fire up the generator, letting it roar through the quiet night.
But there’s a better option. It’s much cheaper. Just as effective. And, best of all, you can use this option no matter where you live. Try running a generator in a third-floor apartment. You can’t. But you can use this simple backup.
Think of it as a portable power station.
It makes no noise. There’s no smoke. No fuel or engine to maintain.
It is super simple to use, and you can build it for less than $250.
Better yet, it can run nearly anything you’d use your small, portable generator to run. In fact, it uses much the same technology as many expensive household generators – at a fraction of the price.
POWER ANYWHERE… ANYTIME
You need just two things to create a reliable, silent source of power that you can take anywhere or use anytime – a deep cycle battery (the kind you’d put in your boat is perfect) and an inverter to turn its DC power into the AC voltage you need.
That’s it. It’s super simple… and yet virtually nobody uses this trick.
At the risk of sounding too elementary, all you do is connect the inverter to the battery, and you’re done. You can now run most of your household appliances – lights, computers, small heaters, even your refrigerator.
You may not be able to run them for days on end, but you’ll certainly have enough juice to keep the lights on until the linemen get that transformer fixed.
The amount of power you’ll have depends on the size of your battery and the strength of the inverter. Essentially, the bigger you go, the longer you’ll have juice.
It starts with the battery.
Let’s say you want enough electricity to charge your cellphone and run a trio of 100-watt lights and your TV. That’s roughly 550 watts of energy demand.
Using our Electricity 101 formula of Amps = Watts/Volts (every man should memorize that formula and know what it means), we know we need just shy of 6 amps.
Depending on the size of your battery, you may be able to sustain that load for just a few hours or as long as a day.
Exactly how long leads us to some math…
Deep cycle batteries are measured by something known as amp-hours.
It’s quite simple. A battery with a capacity of 1 amp-hour can handle a 1-amp load for, you guessed it, one hour. It has enough juice for a 2-amp load for a half-hour… and can tackle a 4-amp load for just 15 minutes.
I recommend your portable power station has at least a 100-amp-hour battery. It will cost about $100.
With that size of battery, we can run our 6-amp load for just over 16 hours. Unplug for a couple of hours, and it will last even longer. Add some devices, and the time will shrink.
But don’t think you can get a big battery or two and run every electric-hungry appliance in your house. There are limits – mainly your inverter.
THE INVERSION FACTOR
Like I mentioned, the inverter takes the 12-volt DC current stored in your battery and turns it into the same 120 volts that are running through your electric outlets.
An inverter can handle only so much work. But again, the more you spend and the bigger the inverter, the more juice you’ll have.
Inverters are most often measured in watts. Our 550-watt load isn’t all that much. In fact, it’s a load even the cheapest inverters could handle.
But don’t go cheap. I recommend at least a 1,000-watt unit ($100) – but 1,500 watts ($125) is better.
And just because we like math – and I know you’re curious – the 100-amp battery would power our 1,500-watt inverter at full load (12.5 amps) for about eight hours. That’s far longer than the run-of-the-mill power outage (which averages just over three hours).
And when the power comes back on… Just recharge your battery, and your portable power plant is ready for the next emergency.
If you want to go truly off the grid, add a solar array to recharge the battery. (It’s simple… but that’s a topic for another day.)
Too many folks overcomplicate their readiness plan. All it takes to remain safe and comfortable during a routine power outage is a simple off-the-shelf battery and a low-priced inverter. You can get the battery at any auto parts store. As for an inverter, your local big-box hardware store stocks them, or click here for a good one on Amazon.
You can impress your neighbors and keep the lights on for less than $250.
A portable power plant should be in every home in America. Every man should be able to make one.
They’re easy to build and even easier to use.