With Lee Hall & Bob Gilson
Lee: What was the first thing you did after you evacuated Lyons?
Bob: Sat down on a toilet that did not require I fill it with water before use. Didn’t even need to share a flush with someone.
Lee: Ahh, simple pleasures.
Bob: But it didn’t last. The reading rack included an article on inverters.
Lee: Do we really want to hear about this?
Bob: Yes, if you want to keep your meat frozen.
Lee: Please, this is G-rated publication.
Bob: An inverter converts electricity from one form to another. Haven’t you recently experienced a time when you had the wrong form of electricity?
Lee: Most of our audience was/is accurately aware of the absence of electricity.
Bob: But electricity wasn’t absent. It was in the wrong form. It is in the battery of the car or in the gas tank.
Lee: Yes, running the engine causes the car’s alternator to create electricity. But it is 12 volt DC.
Bob: And if you want to keep your meat and veggies frozen, you’ll need 120 volt AC.
Lee: Some folks have portable generators for these occasions.
Bob: That is the more expensive approach. Portable generators cost about $500.
Lee: And perhaps it is more frustrating approach, if you find yourself pulling on the starter cord unsuccessfully during an emergency.
Bob: Generators are composed of 2 parts: a motor and an power converter or inverter.
Lee: You’ve already got a motor in your car. Why buy another?
Bob: Instead buy an inverter that works well with your car.
Lee: Before buying an inverter you should figure out what your power needs are.
Bob: For some that is a fridge and a few light bulbs. For others it includes the TV and internet and so on.
Lee: Add up the watts required to run each device.
Bob: Let’s give a fast refresher course on electricity’s units of measure by comparing it to a river.
Lee: Volts is how deep and wide the river is.
Bob: Amps or amperes is how fast the flow of water is moving.
Lee: Watts is how much water is moving under the bridge per second.
Bob: River Example: A river 30 feet wide and 1 feet deep with a flow rate of 2 feet per second is pushing 60 cubic feet of water under the bridge per second. (30 x 1 x 2 = 60)
Lee: Electricity Example: A fridge drawing 120 volts and 6 amps consumes 720 watts. (120 x 6 = 720)
Bob: Most household devices use 120 volts.
Lee: Amps vary for each device. Find amps on the label on the back or underneath each devices.
Bob: Often the label is inside fridges.
Lee: Block plugs always have a label on them. Use the input amps.
Bob: My needs include fridge(120v x 6a = 720w), 3 lights(three 20w bulbs = 60w), computer(120w x 1a = 120w), internet(36w) for a total of 936 watts.
Lee: These devices may not all be on at the same time but you should plan that they will.
Bob: Sooner or later they will all run at the same time.
Lee: If the inverter is too small it will make unpleasant snap/sizzle noises, emit a foul oder and then no one is happy.
Bob: Inverters should not be run at 100% of capacity if you want them to have long lives.
Lee: Adding an extra 50% is an often sited safety margin.
Bob: So my needs require an inverter about 1500 watts. (936w x 150% = 1404w)
Lee: A 1500 watt inverter can be purchased for around $100.
Bob: How much food did you throw away recently?
Lee: The inverter could be paid for the next time a snow storm knocks out power for a day or two.
Bob: Amazon.com has specs and prices for a wide variety of inverters. I not sure I’d buy an invert from Amazon. But it is a good place to get oriented and shop for secondary features.
Lee: Secondary features include: number of outlets, type of connections to your car, portable or permanent mounts, length of connecting cords.
Bob: You’ll want to have a plan where the car will be parked and how extension cords will be run from car to the devices before buying the inverter.
Lee: Note that this whole plan fails if your car runs out of gas.
Bob: If your V8 gets 15 MPG, you can run your inverter 30 minutes per gallon of gas. If your 4-popper get 35 MPG, you can run your inverter 70 minutes per gallon of gas.
Lee: Emergencies are not the time to get pedantic about MPG.
Bob: Keep your car’s gas tank at least half full when foul weather is expected. Ration the inverter/gas according to the storm’s severity.
Lee: Let’s consider a house with a well.
Bob: Lee Larson of John’s Well Service tells us of several issues using inverters with well pumps.
Lee: Well pumps consume 240 volts, which means one inverter for the fridge and one for the well pump or an inverter that can provide both.
Bob: Well pumps consume 1600 watts in steady operation and as much as 4000 watts at startup. Few cars can create enough electricity.
Lee: Both of these factors increase costs beyond what an average person would spend on an emergency use only system.
Bob: Purchase a few 5 gallon bottles of spring water instead.
Lee: Or you could store your own well water.
Bob: Install an RV’s water tank into your house’s plumbing system.
Lee: I can see Bob’s eyes glowing with fascination. Expect Tech Talk to cover this soon.
Bob: We’re sorry we didn’t write about inverters sooner. Maybe the trials of the flood could have been a little easier.
Lee: We were too busy playing with computers, tablets, etc. We hope this helps the next time Mother Nature gets grumpy.