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Diary of a disaster: Living off the grid after Superstorm Sandy

November 12, 2012 06:00 AM ET

Con Ed's site now says that we'll get power on November 9 at 11:59 p.m. That's still more than a week away and will mean more than 11 full days off the grid.

outage map on Con Ed site
An outage map on the Con Ed website predicts power restoration in the author's neighborhood on November 9 at 11:59 p.m.

While our wired phone service survived the early hours of the storm, the connection is now intermittent, and relatives and friends are calling our cell phones to check up on us. But because we have a cordless phone that requires electricity to operate, I connect an old-fashioned mechanical handset that I have for just such situations. It can't take messages but it works when the phone network works.

Friday, Nov. 2: Power, but not from Con Ed

Our blacked-out lifestyle changes for the better. An electrician friend of mine calls to say that the lights just came on at his parents' house in Mamaroneck, so I can use the generator that they'd been using to power their house. I jump at the chance to rejoin the world of the powered.

 Generac 7000EXL gererator
This Generac 7000EXL generator kept the heat, lights, refrigerator and computers running in the author's house for a week.

He brings over a Generac 7000EXL. Its engine turns an alternator that produces 7,000 watts of continuous 60-Hertz AC power, and up to 12,250 watts for short surges.

It takes about half an hour to set up. Don't try this at home -- working with electrical connections is dangerous and you can do a lot of damage. Get an electrician.

After wheeling it into place, we level it with some old bricks so that the gasoline that fuels it flows into its 14 horsepower engine. To get the power from the generator to the house, we use a length of waterproof 100-Amp cable. The cable is routed through a window in the basement and wired into my house's main power panel through a new circuit breaker to make sure that a short won't burn the house down.

cable thru window to power panel
A waterproof 100-Amp cable brings power from the generator outside through a basement window and into house's main power panel through a new circuit breaker.

The generator puts out about one-third of our normal power consumption. To make sure that my family doesn't overload it, we pick which circuits to energize. Heat is first, then the kitchen, my office, the Internet modem and Wi-Fi router, followed by the upstairs bedrooms.

To stay below the generator's capacity, we have to make tough choices. For example, we power a TV off the kitchen but not the large-screen set upstairs. We can use the microwave and toaster oven, just not at the same time.

Saturday, Nov. 3: A low-powered existence

It's nice to be back in the 21st century, and we're starting to feel more human. My office is back to normal with my PCs, printers and networks running.

Because we can't use every outlet in the house, there are oddities to our post-storm lives. For instance, the all-in-one computer in the kitchen is next to a dead outlet, so I plug it into the closest live one with a 10-foot extension cord along the floor. And every time I try to sharpen a pencil in my office I realize that the electric sharpener is not powered.

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