I Survived a Hurricane Without Blowing Myself Up
What I will Never Do AgainEarlier this year, I was stranded without power as Hurricane Isaac took its lackadaisical sweet time (50 drenching hours) sauntering just west of New Orleans, La. Wisened by the likes of Hurricane Katrina, I of course had a powerful generator on hand, but Isaac's drawn out torment meant no gasoline was to be found. What could I do to get gas and survive without blowing myself up, even if just barely?
I lost electric power at about 9 p.m. Tuesday night, the 28th, in what was likely a precautionary shut down. But it turned out to be much more than precautionary – I did not have power again until the afternoon of Thursday the 30th! After Katrina, I bought a 6,250-watt engine-generator, but there was no gasoline to be had and I had little on hand. There was way too much food in the refrigerators (I have three) and freezer to be lost; I was in a dilemma.
Before I tell you how I solved the problem, it's important to be advised that I don't recommend you try this and I certainly will never do this again. I was lucky to have not blown myself up or caused a fire. Fittingly, when my childhood friend heard what I did, he wrote, "You crazy, white boy."
As soon as I saw I had so little gasoline on hand, my MacGyver-like brain began to whiz. What fuel did I have? Of course – the fuel for heating and cooking! In a moment of what I surely would have called temporary insanity had I caused any damage, I decided to use the gas provided by the local utility company to power my generator. Did I mention to NOT try this at home?
I concocted a make-shift connection in my kitchen. This type of connection is absolutely forbidden and is unsafe for anything but a short period of time. The rubber hose went out the kitchen window to the generator on the upstairs porch. It was necessary to adjust the flow of gas to the generator so I used the small "C" clamp to do this. The more I tightened the clamp, the less gas flowed through the rubber hose. This is a necessary and critical adjustment as the generator must have exactly the right ratio of gas to air. Too rich, and it runs poorly and carbons up the engine. Too lean, and I risked engine valve damage. I tried to run it just a bit on the rich side of a perfect mixture. I could not walk away from the contraption because gas would have flowed even if the engine stopped running.
Side note: I measured how loud the generator was and it was almost 100dB, c weighted! Of course, I was wearing hearing protection.
I should have absolutely disconnected my two meters from the electric service because of the risk to my engine if the power came on, as well as the danger to anyone working on the wires while the power was still off. Consider this a warning to other like-minded crazy tinkerers to stick to safer projects!
The proper way to do this is with a transfer switch. My friend, the woodworker with an injured hand, bought a conversion kit online to run his generator safely on natural gas. I helped him get down the steps of his house the day Hurricane Isaac started, only to find it would not start, (so much for safe!). Turned out he failed to use a gasoline stabilizer when he first ran the generator several years ago. Having seen this before, I knew what to do and we had his generator running well in no time.
In the end, I saved my food and didn't kill myself or anyone else. In addition, my previous utility bills showed that it cost me about $0.40/ hundred cubic feet. This is a tremendous saving over what I would have paid for gasoline, had it been available. I ran my engine generator some 12 hours, on and off, on about 300 cubic feet of this gas.
Not only did I save my food and saved money, but I also know that this gas burns cleaner than gasoline and is better for the engine and engine oil. I would never want anyone to do as I did; it just isn't worth the risk, especially considering there are commercial products available (see UScarburetion.com).
I would never dream of doing this again. It's unsafe and unsmart on many levels. I was lucky to have not injured myself in the craziness of Hurricane Isaac. Unlike the MacGyver episodes, there was no explosion and this "crazy white boy" has finally come to his senses. This is one project I won't be repeating.
Avoid deadly back feeding of power lines.
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