12-Volt Appliances for Hurricane Survival & Recovery

As promised in an earlier post, we've found more "Level-I" hurricane survival and recovery tools. Our focus here is on 12-volt appliances that will help both renters and owners and which have recreational potential as well. Caveats: keeping the exra "stuff' to a minimum is a guiding principle for us, so buy only what you really will use. As a general rule, some 12V DC appliances are sold out by this time of year. TreeHugger recommends you look first at the marine and RV supply houses such as this one. Beginning with the bedroom, we have some good news for those who want to handle the hot, miserable weeks that follow major storm-caused outages. Reasonably priced 12-Volt and 24-Volt DC powered ceiling fans are available. Before you order one though, do some strategizing.

Think about which bedroom would be most likely left intact following a major storm. Could everyone sleep and eat in the single room, under a single fan, if needed? Can you also get some cross ventilation (or potentially too much of it)? Next, you should look into whether there's a convenient place for an electrician to hook up a fan with wall surface wiring.

You'll need a south-facing porch or window on which you can temporarily, following the storm, mount a solar panel and place nearby a battery or two. When the storm has passed, and you have returned home, pull the portable solar panel(s) out of the closet, orient them, and use some duct tape or other framing means to hold them at the best angle for mid-day sun. You might want to make a collapsable wooden or metal setup frame in advance and have that in the closet as well.

Assume you purchased a 12V DC ceiling fan, which offers the most compatibility with other 12V appliances in a simple circuit. You'll also want one or more solar-photovoltaic (SPV) panel(s) and one or two 12-volt high capacity truck or car battery(s)....parallel wired batteries if more than one... which preferably sit in plastic marine battery cases. If your power useage will be high, get higher wattage SPV panels and an extra battery; conversely, if you'll be in and out a lot, and running few 12V appliances, you can lean more toward the small, low wattage, trickle-charger type SPV panel and maybe a sealed motorcycle battery for storage.

Anyhow, once the panel(s) and battery(s) are set up, run an extension cord from the battery terminals to the plug or junction box that powers the DC ceiling fan. Good to keep the cord as fat and short as possible to reduce DC current line losses.

Ask the fan and/or SPV panel vendor to suggest the needed battery clips and connectors as well as a "blocking diode" to put in the SPV to battery circuit. The diode is a simple cheap little dodad that prevents the solar panels from shorting the batteries when the sun is not shining. You must have one.

Note that no voltage transformer or power conditioning equipment of any sort is needed in this simple, temporary setup. If you need simpler still, skip the ceiing fan, and go with one of the clamp-on fans of the type shown below.

Radio Shack sells "cig lighter" gang plugs that you could use to power several small electronic devices. These make it easy to run the other 12V goodies.

Because 12V appliances can be useful in your vehicle or boat as well as at home, you might keep them in a hurricane "evacuation kit" that you take with you when the storm is predicted to arrive. Then, on your return, you can take them into your home to work on the solar charged batteries. Here are some pics of common 12V powered appliances.





There are many more available, including 12V DC televisions and radios.

Finally, anticipating the hurricane season, keep those lead acid batteries topped up with a trickle charger for your arrival home. When the power grid is down, the solar panels will help keep the batteries charged.

Now keep cool and safe TreeHuggers.