It was around 6:30 pm on Tuesday, and we had finished dinner in a hurry because it was storming out. Torrential rains, 70 mph winds, flash flood warnings: we figured there was a good chance the power would go out. We weren’t disappointed.
We couldn’t even call the power company at first, the system was probably broken by the barrage of calls. When we finally got through to report our power outage, they gave us an estimate repair time of 9:30pm. That time came and went and we needed to put the kids to bed.
My kids are still a little afraid of the dark, so they sleep with night lights, which require AC power. With the power out, we needed a substitute.
Sure, we had flashlights and my Ryobi Worklight, but we didn’t have any flashlights that were dim enough to be used as nightlights, and that would last until morning. Then I remembered that I saw an option on my Milwaukee M18 One-Key tool samples, where you could program the light to always stay on.
I ran down to my shop and grabbed my One-Key drill and impact driver — one tool for each kid. I switched them into Bluetooth mode and programmed each one to stay on when the trigger was pulled. I didn’t bother saving the profile because as long as you leave the tool in Bluetooth mode the program will keep running.
I set up the drill on my daughter’s desk and pulled the trigger. At 100% brightness it was almost the exact amount of light her nightlight gives off. For my son I found that setting the brightness to 75% worked better. 25% and 50% were also available options.
In the middle of the night, my son got up, grabbed the impact driver, and used it to find his way to the bathroom.
In the morning I turned off the lights by setting the tools to another one of the presets and pulling the trigger. Then I checked and the battery meter on both tools, and it hadn’t moved, still showing full power. I probably could have used the tools as night lights for days.
Was it the most elegant solution? Well no, but it worked surprisingly well. The tool was easy to position and stayed right where you put it, unlike a round flashlight which has a tendency to roll.
Wednesday morning came and we still didn’t have any power. I searched the neighborhood and found the downed lines, but nobody was working on them. It was 4:30 in the afternoon, before the power company fixed the lines. I can’t blame them though, there was an estimate that as many as 170,000 households had lost power in the storm. We were pretty lucky to get power back in less than 24 hours.
Energy in the Wrong Place
I have several USB batteries, but all I had charged for the power outage was a single 10,000 mAh power bank that’s more like 6,000 mAh. My phone, my wife’s phone, my daughter’s phone and tablet, and my son’s tablet were all low because it was the end of the day. We wanted to save the power bank to charge my phone and my wife’s overnight because that was most important.
So the kids were really upset that they couldn’t use their electronics. The problem was that I had 11 M18 batteries that I keep charged in my shop. I was able to use two of them for the “nightlights,” but that left 9 that I could have used if I would have bought a Milwaukee Power Source or two like Stuart had used to survive his power outage, but I didn’t.
I browsed my phone to see if I could get the Milwaukee USB adapter anywhere locally, but it seems that it’s only sold online. I’m not happy about the single USB port or the low output power (Stuart’s note: Milwaukee had updated the output current from 1A to 2.1A), but I would have braved the storm to go pick one or two up if I could have found them anywhere close by. Anything would be better than to listen to my kids whining about not being able to use their electronics.
This seems like a no-brainer item to carry in the store, I’m looking at you Home Depot.
Needless to say, I’ll probably be picking up one or two of Milwaukee’s 49-24-2371 USB adapters in the future!
IR Thermometer for Food Testing
In the aftermath of the storm, most of our refrigerated and frozen food didn’t make it, but rather than throwing it all out right away, I used the Fluke 62 Max Plus IR thermometer Stuart had sent me for testing to make sure it was over-temperature first. That way I didn’t waste any more food than I had to.
Most of the frozen stuff was easy to sort: all the meat were still frozen solid in hard solid chunks, the vegetables and fruits were all a soggy mess, and there were a few items I measured at almost 40°F. Out they went.
In the fridge is where the IR gun really worked well, and I was able to measure the temperature of the liquids. Our milk and half ‘n half were hovering around 60°F, so they got dumped, but surprisingly the yogurt stayed cold.
Honestly, this piece of plastic costs them almost nothing. They should just toss it in as a freebie with a kit purchase. I bought one anyway because it’s handy to have an alternate use for batteries I already own, but I won’t buy more than 1 at this price.
There’s plastic, electronics, QC, packaging, and a user manual. That doesn’t amount to nothing.
Would you want the cost be built into the cost of a kit if you didn’t want it? Or that they were cheapened enough so as to cost a minimal amount?
No, of course not.
I don’t know anyone who actually liked the basic non-LED flashlights that used to be bundled in combo kits.
Just thinking out loud here, but I wonder how long the 120V power supplies that run off of cordless tool batteries would run a freezer, especially if you never opened the door? Might be an application people don’t normally think of.
I guess the power pack would have to be able to supply the starting inrush current ( maybe 10 amps ?) and then maybe the cycle running current which could be 5 amps. I think my Honda generator is rated at something like 5500 watts continuous – with 7000 watts for short motor start-up duty and it takes care of my refrigerator/freezer and standalone chest freezer.
My neighborhood might have learned some lessons after Super-Storm Sandy. Lots of us had portable gasoline generators of all sorts, sizes and noise levels. But they all soon ran out of gas as the outage stretched into several days and then a week – and the gas stations either had no gas available or no power to pump it – so whether you had a Honda like mine or a HF one – they soon did you no good. A few neighbors had whole house generators – fueled off the natural gas line. I know of one where the rotor failed almost immediately – and that was that – even though it had been regularly tested and serviced.
After the storm and cleanup (I lost the siding on a 75 foot long upper wall and about 300 feet of fence – so I was relatively lucky) , my wife agitated for me to install a permanent natural gas generator. But my professional experience with them (both Kohler and Generac brands) suggested that all things considered (cost to buy and install, need for regular testing and possibility of failure on start-up) they were not justified based on our infrequent outage history. Instead I bought a few more 5 gallon gas cans – and more recently a Makita ADP05 (also IMO too costly for what it is)
Just FYI Makita ADP05 is now $19 at Amazon and Home Depot. I didn’t even know about it before your post and quickly ordered it! 🙂
I think I paid something like $26 with tax – so I should have waited.
I have 3 DeWalt 20v lights and 2 Milwaukee lights. My plethora of batteries are always charged and ready to go. I also have my Zebra headlamp and camping gear.
i’d like to build a power bank similar to dewalt’s new 120v system, but a diy option, anybody know of that done before?
Maybe a modular version of a tesla wall, but with power tool batteries instead.
If you would had a $80 800watt inverter you could have cooled your fridge from your car. People dont understand that you have a generator in your garage or driveway.
Build yourself a battery bank. As many community members here already have, myself included.
Visit battery1234.com and that site is dedicated to info on building battery bank systems with audio shows telling you how and why everything should be done the way its done. Ive never had to actually use mine due to power being out but between my car and my battery bank and the combined +2,000 kW of generators i have at work i feel im able to handle a power outage lol.
This is an interesting idea, and I haven’t looked it up at all but my initial feeling is this would probably be hard on your alternator
The problem with sinking any sort of money into preparedness is that the return on investment would be very poor.
We have very good infrastructure here and utility companies that are very responsive. The last time we lost power for any length of time was two years ago, and the time before that was at least 7 years ago.
Plus this time I estimate that we maybe threw out $40 to $50 of food and a lot of it was questionable anyway — some of the fruit had been in the fridge from well over a year. The inconvenience of the power being out for a few days is a novelty.
The only time I could see a battery bank being worth it for me is if I was generating my own power and it was actually being used regularly.
It is a bit of a pickle – but you are absolutely right about what a cost/benefit calculation would say.
Many folks overlook or miscalculate the impact of capital cost when looking at a spending proposition. Depending on your opportunity cost of capital – the payback may need to be as short as 2 years – but probably not longer than 5 years. With a payback based on a contingent event or even series of possible events – it is truly hard to see a payback.
When I purchased my Honda generator – it was difficult to convince my wife that it was a waste of $4000 plus the cost of the electrical work, pad and awning to keep it dry and other incidentals. I guess that the $6000 in total that I sunk – was chalked up to the value of convenience. In retrospect, I probably should have gone with one of the cheapie generators that I saw at HD or Lowes – but my own (illogical) impulse to try to buy the best in class when it comes to tools (and I guess generators) lead me down the garden path.
At least logic seemed to prevail when we resisted the Post-Sandy impulse to add a whole house generator with a natural gas supply – that certainly would have been in the $15k realm – with no possible payback.
Where do you live that it’s so green and pretty?
Everything here in central California is dead and brown.
In the suburbs of Minneapolis. It’s been pretty wet in the summer here the past few years to where things stay green well into August.
The downside is that we get these wicked storms with high winds, tornadoes, and sometimes big hail every few weeks. The storm that knocked out our power this time wasn’t even that bad compared to some of the storms we get.
The thing with those $80 800 watt inverters is that none of them are sine wave inverters, and at that price, they’re at the low end of what an 800 watt inverter “should” be.
Sure, some of your modern electronics don’t mind a square wave, or modified sine wave, but I’ve run into plenty of horror stories of “cheap” inverters either failing to work with, or severely shortening the lives of AC motors (think power tools, compressors ~aka~ refrigerators, AC units, freezers, and furnaces), especially older ones. And with the control electronics that goes into a lot of the modern ones, there is honestly a certain kind of waveform they’re expecting and when you start messing around with that, things start turning in to repairs bills sooner rather than later.
If you’re going to go that route, then get a decent, “inexpensive” (relative term here) sine wave inverter, rated for the highest current draw device(s) you’re going to put on it and factor in rush current when they fire up. If it’s really an issue, and you live someplace that it IS an issue, I’ve seen, for actually not a ton of money, people run with a few solar cells, a sine wave inverter, and believe it or not…a forklift battery. (Takes some doing to get it someplace, but they’re meant for abuse, last for years, actually are “cheapish” for this type of thing, and have a high capacity.) Solar/utility keeps it topped off, inverter keeps important things running when there’s and outage. Again, expensive, but self-charging, reliable, about as expensive as an “installed” geni, and fewer failure points…but you really NEED to have a use for it or a WANT for the security.
Also, you never need to worry about someone stealing the battery 🙂
Specifically on topic though, or sideways a bit, I used to work in a haunted attraction (big one, 26,000+ sqft) in the Great Lakes area. During construction, or even before/during/after the show for repairs/quick fixes, my Makita impact driver (going on 9 years now, still ticking) with it’s work light was perfect for navigating in the pitch black, including the occasional actual power outage.
Really, ALL of them need an option to switch this thing on separate from the trigger. I’ve had times where I’ve been working on things and this would have been the perfect work like to have with me.
I am glad that everything turned OK. I can’t imagine being without electricity for a week or more like the case was with hurricane Sandy. And by the way, smart use of the M18 as a night light- I’ll never forget that now.
I’ll just throw this in the discussion since you mentioned you keep your batteries charged. it is too bad that leaving the batteries fully charged reduces their capacity, even after a short period of time, otherwise the low self discharge and high energy density makes Li-Ion batteries perfect for emergency use.
There are several references and some sites list anywhere between 40-60% charge state for best performance. Panasonic recommends 30% storage charge to avoid irrecoverable battery damage from over discharge (http://www.rathboneenergy.com/articles/sanyo_lionT_E.pdf).
A good source of info on storage effects can be found here: batteryuniversity.com/learn/article/how_to_prolong_lithium_based_batteries
Its a bit of a conundrum, isn’t it? Store the batteries so that they are ready to go for work or in case of emergency, or store them for longevity? Maybe you should store the batteries in a fridge LOL
Another hint: we keep a a few zip-top storage bags full of ice cubes in the freezer whenever there is enough room. I quite often use an ice bath to quickly cool down large batches of soup or cooked food before placing the fridge and since we don’t use our ice maker that much, it helps keep the ice fresh in the maker. Anyway, one time after a 24-hour power outage, we did not loose anything in the fridge due to the extra ice. It goes without saying that mileage will vary depending how often you open the fridge door and always use a thermometer-like Benjamin did.
On the freezer: our freezer is usually packed with food, but we had been trying to whittle that down and the freezer was only about 1/3 full when the power outage hit. The ice idea is a good one. We don’t use the ice in the ice maker much either so it does get kind of frosty and stuck together. I’ll often use ziplock bags of ice in a cooler, so it would make sense just to have them in the freezer and ready to go rather than having to remember to empty the ice maker and make more ice the night before.
11 batteries fully charged is quite excessive isn’t it. I could probably get away with 4 or 5. I only use 2 or 3 of my M18 tools regularly and a couple spare ready to go would probably be enough to keep fully charged. I could keep the other batteries half charged and store them someplace cooler, I think storing them in the fridge might be a bit excessive though.
My batteries are in the cool basement, but it’s got to be even worse for the guys who take their battery on the job site all year long and expose their batteries to temperature extremes.
This would be a good question to ask Milwaukee, and frankly the other tool manufacturers too.