Hurricane Dorian is projected to take a northern turn away from Melbourne, however just a slight wobble could put it very close or even over us. I’ve made a decision to go ahead with my pre-storm checklist and get the house ready for any possibility. Running through this exercise will also allow me to see if anything on the list needs to be added or updated (it does). I’ll post an updated list in the future with the changes.
Here’s a video walk through of what it looks like once we are prepped. If there was a threat that we were going to take a direct hit I’d do a few more things such as securing all loose items in the yard and putting up the last remaining shutters. I consider this stage of prep is good for anything up to a category 2 storm.
I’ll post a follow up in a few days, hopefully there’s not much to show.
Today we take a step away from the garden to install a generator transfer switch in the house. In the three years that we have lived at Three Acre Paradise we have only lost power once for an extended period of time (around 18 ours) but in previous residences I’ve been without power for up to three weeks. We do have a grid tied solar power system here but if the grid goes down the solar system also shuts down as a safety measure. There is a way to back feed a generator to the house which works fine but it is more difficult to set up and has many other disadvantages.
A generator manual transfer switch is an less expensive alternative to a whole house generator. In the future I plan on adding a battery backup to the solar system so it can run off grid so in the meantime I don’t want to spend the money on a whole house generator. The transfer switch allows me to quickly switch selected circuits over to alternative power (portable generator or battery bank & inverter) while the rest of the house is still tied to the grid. On nice thing about this is that when grid power does come back on it will be obvious (other circuits will power on) and I can switch back very easily.
Here is the panel I bought:
After a bit of research I found that Reliance panels are rated very well and for my purposes a 10 circuit 30 amp panel is needed. When sizing a panel you have to add up all the loads you would like to run (amps) and figure out how many circuit breakers these are spread across. I could actually get by with a 20 amp panel but I needed at least 9 circuits to cover all wants. All lights in the house are LED (make this your first step – it’s cheaper to conserve) so the lighting draw is very low but spread out throughout the house and a lot of circuits.
In addition to the panel, I got a flush mount kit to make the installation look clean. Here’s Amazon links to both items:
I wanted to mount the transfer switch next to the main circuit breaker panel for ease of access. Here’s a lifepro tip: if you build a home take a TON of pictures during construction. The most important ones are when all the wall framing is up, wiring is in, but insulation has not been put in yet. This gives you an x-ray view into your walls, and as you can see here it came in very handy.
This is the view behind my main breaker panel. I can’t put the transfer switch to the left of the panel due to a doorway. To the right, I can see there is a cross brace (blue) and some studs backing an interior wall (red). I’ll have to put the panel low and deal with the wall backing when I get the hole cut.
The first thing I did was cut a large hole in an area I know is clear, from here I can reach my hand in and determine where that horizontal cross brace is (blue from above).
With that in mind, I traced an outline for the box making sure it was far enough away from the circuit panel so that I could get the flush mount kit flange installed as well.
Here’s the wall after the hole was cut. This picture is actually from a few steps later where I made notches around the outside corners for the flush mount kit as you will see in the next few steps. The studs for the inside bracing can be seen here running right down the middle.
I still wasn’t sure how good the fit would be so this is the moment of truth:
Pretty good! The knockout for the wires can be seen here and it lined up between the drywall and studs. The mounting tabs for the flush mount kit stand out just a little bit due to the boards on the back, but the studs will provide a secure place to screw the box to.
Here’s a closer look at the mounting tabs, they are out just about a quarter of an inch. I need them flush with the drywall for the best fit.
The mounting tabs are not part of the main box, rather they are an “L” bracket screwed onto the side. To move the tabs back I simply extended the holes on the brackets to allow them to slide back a little further. This was nice as it did not require any modifications to the main box.
At this point I got tired of dealing with all the wires dangling in the way so I took out the switch assembly.
To get the transfer switch wiring to the main breaker panel I had to cut through a wall stud. I got lucky as the breaker panel had a knockout in the right place, if it hadn’t then I would have had to cut a hole in the metal.
Once the hole was cut I did a test fit of the conduit and cut it to length. This flex conduit was included in the Reliance Pro/Tran2 310C kit.
The transfer switch box is now ready for mounting, I screwed it directly to the studs behind the box. It is VERY secure.
Since I moved the bracket for the flush mount kit back, the trim panel now bumps into a couple of screws on the main box. A metal nibbler took care of this.
Next step is to put the switches back in and run the wiring. Easy to say, not so easy to do.
There was no way that was going to work. I’ve run plenty of wires through conduit and I tried all the tricks. I used wire lube, tried running them one at a time, tried pulling through as a bunch. That ninety degree bend is a challenge so there’s only one way I could think of to get it done:
Yup, I took everything back apart and ran the wires before putting the whole assembly back in the wall. The ninety degree bend (elbow) on the conduit could be taken apart so I ran the wires first, then bent them and assembled all the conduit pieces. A bit of a pain in the neck but in the end this was the most difficult part of the whole process.
Now the switch is back in place and all the wires are run to the breaker panel.
Here you can see a closeup of how tight the wires are coming through the conduit. One rule when working with conduit and wiring, whatever conduit you think you need go ahead and bump it up one size. Unfortunately this one came this way so I just used what they provided.
At this point I’ve got the transfer switch mount completed and I’m ready to wire the breaker panel. I had to wait until I could shut the power off at the main breaker outside the house and I had to remember to shut down the solar inverters as they also provide power to the panel.
Here’s the start of the wiring, I did the only 240v circuit first and tested it before doing the others. This circuit powers the water pump for our well. This transfer switch allows for up to two 240v circuits but I only needed one. Each 240v requires two switches, this left me with eight switches for the rest of the house.
I tried to balance the remaining circuits across the legs equally (each 120v branch is a leg, combined they make a 240v circuit). This helps get maximum use from the generator. For example, we have two refrigerators so I put each on a different leg. The rest of the circuits are pretty light draw (mostly lighting) so they were just balanced across.
Here is a picture of the panel all wired up, I took the opportunity to move a few breakers around as part of this process.
The final product all buttoned up.
I chose to put the power inlet right on the panel rather than run a power inlet box outside. My reasoning is that during a storm I can use a battery bank (a couple of deep cycle batteries or golf cart batteries) with an inverter to keep some lights, tv, and refrigerator running. Once the storm passes I just run a cord outside to a generator.
Anything I would do different? No, I’m happy with how this turned out. I run an annual test of my generators (at the start of hurricane season) and this will make that easier and more accurate as I can easily put the real load in place. If battery prices come down in the next few years than maybe a triplet of Tesla Powerwalls will make this unnecessary but it will still be there for backup in case they fail.
Installing a transfer switch is not hard but unless you are a serious DIY’er like myself then I would just hire an electrician to do it. Buy the parts yourself and it shouldn’t take them more than a couple of hours.
Last post I went through my hurricane pre-season checklist, this post focuses on what I do once it looks like we are directly in the path of a storm. The pre-season list is pretty generic and can be used by just about anyone with maybe a few changes, the pre-storm list is a lot longer and more specific for my situation. That being said, it may still be helpful and I hope it at least encourages others people to get a similar list together. Having a list such as this takes a lot of pressure and guesswork out of the process, once I’ve completed the items I can feel confident we are ready and I can focus on helping others get ready (family and friends).
When you create pre-season and pre-storm lists be aware they are starting points and will probably be revised as they are put into practice. I’ll present this one like I did last post, in numerical order and plus a summary at the end. The order of this one is important, I do things that have the least impact and disruption first and they are the easiest to undo (if required) if it the storm takes a turn away from us.
1. Get cash
If you don’t already have a cash stash on hand then this should be the first thing, get to the bank or ATM’s before everyone else does!
2. Stock up
Although I’ve already stocked up on most things pre-season, this is the time to grab some perishable items. We normally have enough food on hand for a couple of weeks but since there’s the possibility we may be hosting and feeding a crowd it’s a good idea to grab extra. We’ve got the basics covered so these are things that are normally not in high demand before a storm. The cover photo for this post is one I took last year of the Gatorade aisle at a local store, luckily that’s not something I’m looking for now. The items I get: meat, milk, salad mix, potatoes. I’m not worried about losing power to the refrigerator or freezer so these will be safe. I also stock up on dog, chicken, and pond food if we are getting low just in case the stores are closed for a while after the storm. The last thing on the list is salt for the water softener.
3. Fuel all vehicles and generators
This is another one to knock out pretty early on, lines at gas stations are only going to get worse and some may even run out of fuel and close. I make sure the cars, boat (can be siphoned for extra fuel), lawn mower, tractor, and generators are all fueled up in addition to all the fuel cans.
I store all the flashlights and stationary lights without batteries to prevent corrosion issues, this is the time to put the batteries in. I’ll leave them in for the remainder of the season then take them back out after the chances of a hurricane have passed for the year. See the Hurricane Season Prep post for my flashlight recommendations.
6. Put water bottles in freezer
I’ll put around a dozen water bottles in the freezer, these will be used in a cooler as one of the last get ready steps.
7. Wash all laundry
This may take a while so best to start ASAP. If we end up on generator power for a few days it will not be able to power the dryer. It could run the washer but there won’t be any hot water.
8. Fill water softener salt tank
Since we are on well water we have a water softening system which consumes salt. I’ll top this off now so it’s not something I’ll have to think about for the next few weeks in case we are busy with clean up activities.
9. Clean up yard, secure all loose items
Everything on the list to this point is either pretty easy or something that doesn’t have to be undone if the storm changes direction. The remainder of the list becomes a lot more work to undo so I wait until we are about 12-18 hours from seeing storm force winds. Cleaning up the yard and securing loose items is done to keep potential losing these items or having them become flying debris that could damage the house or a vehicle.
10. Place flashlights, inverter, and generator in get ready position
I put the fueled up generator and a spare fuel tank as close to the running are where it will need to go but it will still be protected. When the time comes to use it I just have to wheel it outside, hook up the power cord and sire it up. The battery and inverter are placed near the main TV in the house and flashlights are placed in their designated locations (bedrooms, bathrooms, kitchen). By the way, the Battery Tender float chargers are a great way to keep seldom used batteries (in or out of vehicles) in ready to go condition.
11. Move plants
If a planter can be fairly easily moved I put it in the garage or workshop for protection. I’ll move the most valuable first and if time permits I’ll move some of the others after everything else is done. An EarthBox loaded with soil and water is around 80 pounds, they aren’t going to blow away but the plants could be damaged.
12. Take down sun shade(s)
I’ve got sun shade cloth over the main garden, this has to be removed or it would act like a big sail and lift the whole frame. The pipe frame is weighted down with concrete blocks so that is left set up.
13. Remove exterior lights
I take the glass off of all our outside carriage lights and hanging porch lamp since these are expensive and hard to find replacements for. I also remove the bulbs, when I reassemble these it’s a good time to clean them up and put some dielectric grease on the bulb threads. This is something that is smart to do on all bulbs and electrical connectors, especially outdoors.
14. Remove porch fan blades
Very important! If you have fans on an outdoor porch you may want to keep this one in mind. My fans have blades that snap off pretty easily so it only takes a few minutes. I’ve seen many cases where fans blow around and either get damaged or damage the ceiling above them.
15. Put up storm shutters
At this point we are pretty sure we are getting hit by some bad winds. These are a bit of a pain and take a few hours but are probably the single most important thing to do. If the storm doesn’t look like a bad one I’ll leave the porch shutters off but nearby so they can be put up quickly, if it’s a strong storm I’ll put them all up now. Here’s an additional picture of the porch with shutters installed and fan blades removed. We left one shutter panel off so we could see outside and get a little light in the house.
16. Put secondary water hose in place
If we can’t fire the generator up right away then we have no water, one of the drawbacks of having a well. I’ve got a secondary well that has natural pressure (artesian) so I run a hose from that well head to the utility sink in the garage and keep a bucket nearby. The spigot is opened but I put a valve on the end of the hose so it can be turned on and off at the sink. We have drinks already covered, this is used to manually fill toilet tanks.
17. Stage drinks and snacks to coolers
This is the final item and done as the winds start picking up. Remember those frozen water bottles? They go in big coolers along with some ice and a variety of drinks. These are for use while power is limited, once the generator is up the refrigerator and freezer can be used again.
The Brief List
Here’s the same list in short form without comments:
Stock up – meat, milk, salad mix, potatoes, dog food, chicken food, pond food
Fuel all vehicles and generators
Start charging all devices
Put batteries in all lights
Put water bottles in freezer
Wash all laundry
Fill water softener salt tank
Clean up yard, secure all loose items
Place flashlights, inverter, and generator in get ready position
Take down sun shade(s)
Remove exterior lights
Remove porch fan blades
Put up storm shutters
Put secondary water hose in place
Stage drinks and snacks to coolers
The hard part is over, now is the time to wind down and relax. Hurricanes are mostly boring, if there are really high winds they usually only last a few hours. It can be hard to sleep with the wind howling outside so we usually end up watching TV or sitting around with a cold drink in hand.
We’ve been lucky, Three Acre Paradise is protected very well by a lot of trees. These aren’t just the ones on the property, most neighbors also have dense canopies over their yards. In 2016 we sat in the garage with the door open during the brunt of hurricane Matthew, in 2017 we didn’t put the shutters on the porch and stayed there for most of hurricane Irma. That’s not to say we couldn’t get a much more dangerous storm but I’m pretty confident in staying put for anything up to a category 4 storm and possible a 5. Evacuation would be difficult, there isn’t many ways out of the county and history has shown those routes get jammed up very quickly. I’d prefer not to join that mess and make it easier for people who have to evacuate to be able to get away (beachside communities, mobile homes).
If you find this useful please let me know, I don’t have an after storm checklist but if there’s interest I can put up my thoughts and what we have done in the past. Until next post, stay safe!