doing the generator install

In total our power was out for about three days last year. A squirrel chewed through a line (or so it was reported), a truck backed into a power pole, and the last one I never heard the scoop on but it lasted a while.

These are just generally inconvenient but mid-winter it can be a different bag of potatoes. We could keep from dying I suppose by hopping in one of the cars: even if we couldn’t drive due to snow conditions we could keep the vents and exhaust shoveled out and just sit there in a nice warm cab. But that sounds absolutely horrible so I set out to get something more baller.

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The noisy and heavy part: the generator. 

I opted for the Champion 3800, which is really more like 3500 watts at our altitude. It was $500, has an awesome reputation, and burns either gasoline or propane with the flip of a switch.

Propane is more expensive and harder to come by, but it never goes bad. The tank can get cold, and it produces less power than gasoline, but it starts up easier and it’s pretty hard to spill propane on your hands. The exhaust doesn’t stink that much. We have a 30LB tank hanging around.

Gasoline is cheaper, puts out more power, and is easier to come by. We have about 20 gallons, with fuel stabilizer mixed in. Come summer time the gas goes into the cars, and a new batch is put in the tanks with stabilizer again.

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So ignore the unpatched drywall and focus on the spanking new electronics.

The previous owners had run multiple circuits to single breakers and installed a sub panel (huge hole there) because they ran out of space on the 1975 original panel that came with the house. There were all kinds of blank marker arrows and drawings, the thing was a mess and it drove me nuts. As would be said on the waterfront, it was chickenshit work.

I got a badass QO panel with space to grow, got a whole-house surge protector (white labeled box with little green light there), and wired the generator in with a generator transfer switch.

You could, if you’re a horrible person who likes killing others and setting your own house on fire, plug your generator directly into the outlet where your clothes dryer plugs in. The problem here is you are sending current out into your house and back into the power lines. Chances are if you’re running a generator it’s because the power is out and guess what electrical crews need to work with? That’s right, the electricity you’re sending out even though they think they turned all the power off.

A lineman for SoCal Edison was electrocuted last year by this very thing.

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The generator plugs in here, so no need to have a cable snaking through a door or window.

So instead we use an awesome generator transfer switch. Beyond the safety, it’s wired directly into your main circuit breakers so you pick (in advance) what you want powered. For us it’s the pellet stove (heat), the fridge (food), the hot water heater, the lights in the kitchen and living room, and the television/PS4. Even our broadband gear will work if the outage isn’t impacting some other part of the network.

It was fun to walk around and read the current requirements from the various things we wanted to run at the same time. Interestingly enough, you need to balance the load between the two phases of electricity or some such. I’m not sure of the details but basically (on my unit) you want A+B == E+F, more or less. It shouldn’t be totally lopsided.

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The super awesome generator transfer switch.

We tested it, and everything works great. Normally the circuits we care about are in “line” mode, so they’re powered by the regular power lines. If we flip them to “gen”, the generator will handle them. They can’t be in both, so no worries about sending current back out or having mismatched sine waves (for those super geeks reading this).

Plus, the circuits you’re not running on the generator are just sitting there waiting for normal line power so when the lights come on down the hall you know everything’s up again.

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Cheap and can be used for any 12v battery.

The only other item you may want to consider is a battery charger. I picked up a small unit for $20 and every few months that the generator hasn’t run I toss it onto the generator’s small 12v motorcycle-ish battery. There’s a pull cord to start but those are no fun.

So the next time the power’s out in Mammoth swing on by. We’ll have hot showers, cold drinks, warm air, and Call of Duty multiplayer.

my diy boot-glove-stuff dryer

Sure, it looks like a crazy science experiment gone wrong. But this thing kicks ass at drying lots of gear so the next day you’ve got warm and dry gear to put on.

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Pellet stove on right, hideous hose beast dryer on left.

I started with a prototype made of cardboard. I’d really recommend that to anyone as you probably have plenty of it laying around and with some tape you can make a design and see how well it will work. In a pinch, you can even get by with a cardboard model for quite some time.

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Believe it or not, this piece of crap worked great for a week as I theorized my final design.

There are two core concepts with a snowsports dryer:

  1. Have everything spaced out so they can dry. This is pretty easy to achieve as you can just hang things up, no big deal.
  2. Blow warm and dry air inside of things like gloves, mitts, and boots. This is the tricky part and why you can’t just leave wet gloves out on a table and expect them to be dry anytime soon.

For $19 I got a 120mm muffin fan that pushes 51CFM. There are more powerful ones, but I wanted something relatively quiet and honestly even with almost a dozen wet items to deal with this fan has been doing the trick.

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How cool: a box with a fan in it.

The fan sucks air into the airtight box, and then you’re faced with the challenge of getting it to your boots/gloves/whatevers. I decided to go a little hardcore and use 1/2″ hose barbs, screwed onto fittings between a piece of particle board. That the whole box was done with 3/4″ ply and particle board was no accident. The hoses are tough and pull on the box. The fan needs to be mounted firmly. You can expect the box to get kicked, bumped, and treated with neglect. I opted to make it beefy.

What’s cool about using barbs like this is that you can get creative with the types of hoses you use after the fact without really doing anything to the dryer itself. I even installed some T fittings on the ends.

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The top, before it went on. 1/2″ hose barbs screwed to PVC fittings on the underside.

Before I put the top on (with all the fittings) I used some foam crack filler to seal up the interior as much as possible. The whole thing is screwed together in the hopes that it can handle a lot of abuse. The fan is rated at 67,000 hours, which at 100/days of service per year running for 5 hours at a clip I should be able to snowboard 134 seasons before I need to replace the fan.

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Top attached, playing with the hoses, getting closer.

For the hose I found 25′ of 1/2″ conduit for $10. It’s pretty stout stuff and maintains its curve fairly well which is a blessing if you want it and a curse if you don’t. I slashed the bottoms that fit over the barbs so they can come off easier, and put little holes near the ends in the sidewalls that go into the boots/gloves.

I can dry 10 items at a time, and the whole thing breaks down relatively easily. I place it (safely) near the pellet stove so there’s plenty of warm air about and no need to add a separate heating element. It’s sort of obvious: after a day of snowsports you want to be warm and dry too so the heater will most definitely be on.

If I had to do another, my shopping list would look like this:

  • 10 pipe fittings, cost around $15.
  • 3/4 ply or particle board, maybe $5-$20.
  • Fan, $20.
  • Hose, $10.

Done cheaply you’ll be in for around $50 and have something that absolutely clowns on the piece of garbage plastic jobbers out there, nevermind you’ll have 5x the capacity and a much longer product life. The only downside is that you’ll have an octopus of death dryer in your living room.

$600 later, i own two tons of wood pellets

So in our home we have a wood pellet stove. Gone are the days of conventional wood fireplaces which aren’t as efficient and are nearly impossible to keep burning at a steady rate unattended for long periods of time. A pellet stove on the other hand generates a tiny amount of ash, is better for the environment, and can auto-feed itself for 24-48 hours. For the uninformed, wood is usually the cheapest way to heat a home. Coupled with pellet stoves, wood is not only cheap but better for emissions:

Pellet fuel appliances are more convenient to operate than ordinary wood stoves or fireplaces, and some have much higher combustion and heating efficiencies. As a consequence of this, they produce very little air pollution. In fact, pellet stoves are the cleanest solid fuel, residential heating appliance. Pellet stoves that are certified by the EPA are likely to be in the 70% to 83% efficiency range.

In the Town of Mammoth Lakes, it’s actually required that you have an EPA approved fireplace which basically means you’ll get a pellet stove.

I’ve been given a guesstimate that we’ll use 2 tons of pellets this winter. I’ve also learned that they’re on sale in the late summer, with the price steadily cranking up through winter. Also, you have to schlep the pellets around in the snow and ice if you get them too late. With all that in mind I put $605.00 dollars on my credit card at High Country Lumber and loaded up.

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Each one of those pallets represents 1 ton. They are *huge*.

The problem was evident the moment I backed up my not-so-small truck: these pallets are massive. Where the hell am I going to put them? The nice guys are letting me grab a dozen or so bags at a time over the next week, but where in the heck am I supposed to store two one-ton pallets, each consisting of 50 bags, 40 pounds a pop.

This is where some dude who’s been living in the mountains for 4,000 years chimes in: “Well sonny, I’ve got a perfect place in my garage here to store them. Super easy to get to, they stay nice and dry. Just do that.”

Well old timer, I don’t have a damn garage. All I’ve got is my wits, some muscles, and a desire to not have my family die of hypothermia in the winter. It very much reminds of me of sailing life, whereby miles under your keel taught you tricks and tips that made life so much more enjoyable. I’m sure next year I’ll have this stuff figured out, but for now I get to be a monkey fornicating with a football