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Extension Cords and Pigtails

Tuesday, 17 December 2013 00:00 Written by  Gary Griffin

In the last Alternative Energy article, we discussed Direct Current (DC) power distribution using DC to DC converters and home-made distribution boxes. But, what if you wanted to use multiple distribution boxes, maybe in different rooms of your home? How would you get your supply power from point A to B, or A to C, or B to D, and so on? What type of main power supply system have you sketched out, and is it affordable? Join us as we discuss an inexpensive power distribution concept.

Watch the Video: Extension Cords and Pigtails

Prepping Mentality Drives Systems

My Prepping Mentality is focused around a mobile Bug Out environment; even though I do have a Bug Out location in mind. Everything that I do is modular, and can be adapted to small and large scale scenarios, using plug and play systems, and this mindset is also applied to my Alternative Energy projects. My power distribution plan also has to be modular, and most be able to accommodate several different situations.

For instance, let’s say I have adopted the Walking Dead Season 1 ideology; mobile camps using vehicles and tents. So, I have this cool alternative energy system, but now want to supply power to my vehicle, the RV base station, a friend’s tent, or every tent in my group. How would you go about accomplishing this?

Also continuing with the Walking Dead scenario, what if I end up on a farm, or Woodbury, or at the prison; would my distribution system from the mobile environment still work? Can I effectively cover distances between two locations? And, how much will it cost?

Managing Expectations

In a true survival situation, most of us will not be able to power every device or appliance that we own; we will not be able to replace the electricity company. Therefore, realistically only small devices/appliances or those larger devices/appliances deemed necessary will be able to be supported.

I like to think in terms of storm situations. In early December 2013, most of the United States was affected by large scale snow and ice storms, and this storm impacted my family as well. Once my power went out, I immediately focused on setting up emergency LED lighting so that I could safely navigate my home to get backup battery power to my refrigerator and freezer. I used an inverter, in addition to my battery bank, to provide power to the fridge and freezer. After this was accomplished, I pulled out my generator from the shed, and started the generator. I ran extension cords to my house, and then switched the refrigerator and freezer over to generator power. Next I plugged in my entertainment center so that I could play Call of Duty Ghosts until the power came back on.

Now, back to managing expectations. Although my fridge and freezer were initially powered by my battery bank, this only occurred until the generator was started.  Now, I really didn’t need to use my battery bank to power my appliances right away, meaning I could have waited the 15 minutes until the generator was up and running; the fridge/freezer would have stayed cold for hours. I did this to go through the motions and to evaluate my emergency plan.

I also know that I could power both appliances non-stop for 5-10 hours before my battery bank was depleted. So instead of wasting battery capacity, I started the generator. But what if I did not have a generator, or if I ran out of fuel, which are both situations we need to deal with in a grid-down environment? Either I need to invest in more alternative energy components, store more fuel, or come to the realization that my budget will only allow for large amounts of power for a short amount of time.

Either way, setting up lighting was my first task, since a lot accidents that occur during storm situations occur due to poor or no light conditions. This wouldn’t be any different in a true survival situation, so let’s put our priorities and expectations on the small things (especially if you have a tight budget). Additionally, we need to focus on devices that do not require as much power. Really, I could have used candles instead of LED lights, but that wouldn’t be a cool or informative discussion. More on our new-budget LED lights in a future article; less than $1 each and can be powered by a car battery.

Wiring

With exception to the main alternative energy components, wiring is one of the most expensive parts of building an alternative energy system. For my wiring plan, I have adopted concepts and components from the $150 Solar Ammo Can Project, so that it remains compatible with previous projects (modular). Additionally, I have found what I think is one of the most cost effective ways for purchasing wire to power you small to medium sized devices/appliances: Extension Cords. 

At your local big-box store a 100’ 16 gauge extension cord, can be purchased for under $20. In terms of wire pricing for this size and ruggedness, this is relatively inexpensive. 16 gauge extension cords are large enough to power your power hungry appliances, are not terribly bulky, and have a durable protective outer shell.

But do you really need a 100 feet extension cord to run from point A to B, or your living room to your bedroom? The answer for most people is no. Therefore, I take a 100 feet cord, cut off both ends, and then section the cord into 10 and 20 feet pieces. At the ends I apply a 2-pole connector set; basically I am recreating the Deltran Battery Tender Extension Cord at a fraction of the price.  This allows me to daisy chain multiple extension cords to the desired length, or when used with a 2-pole connector splitter, such as the NOCO ISCC2 5-Way SAE Adapter Connector, allows me to distribute power to multiple locations.

Practical Wiring Using Extension Cords

So how would this look in practical terms. If you are using the Solar Ammo Can as your base system, you can plug in the Deltran Cigarette Lighter Adapter  into the cigarette lighter outlet. Next you can plug in the extension cord, or go straight to the 2-Pole splitter.

 

Alternatively, if you do not have the cigarette lighter adapter combo, you can use a Fused Terminal Harness to 2-Pole connector. Or, any other system that you can come up with. Flexibility is the key here.

 

After the splitter is plugged in, you can now start working your extension cords throughout your home or camp. The end point can be a distribution box, as discussed in our DC Distribution Box article, or you can use a Pigtail.

Pigtails

What is a Pigtail? Well, it is a cheap but effective means I have come up with to provide power to devices. Although I initially started out using 2-Pole connectors for each device, 2-Pole connectors are expensive if you want to use a lot of them ($2.50 a set). A Pigtail is constructed using a single 2-Pole connector, with positive and negative leads. The length of lead is up to you, but I use around six inches. This allows me to install four T-Taps per lead (8 per Pigtail), which can power up to four devices. If you need to plug in more than four devices at each location, make you leads longer. When closed on your lead, T-Taps form a female terminal connector.

Since T-Taps are used, simple male terminal connectors can be used to plug into the T-Tap. Male terminal connectors are inexpensive, and can be purchased for less than .10 cents each (Amazon or eBay). So how much does each Pigtail cost: $1.50 for the single 2-Pole Connector, $.48 for 8 x T-Taps, and approximately $.15 for six inches or red and six inches of black wire, for a total of $2.13 per Pigtail. This would be cheaper if you purchase the 2-Pole connectors in bulk packages on eBay.

When purchasing electronic components, I recommend using Amazon (the links provided) or searching for the components on eBay. Local and big-box stores, are always much more expensive when dealing with these types of electrical items. While we make a very small commission, we recommend these products because we have tested them out and they are usually the cheapest options available.

Home Concept

The following image demonstrates how I distribute 12 volt power around my home. I have a battery bank which is centrally located, and from there I use a combination of splitters, extension cords, and Pigtails to distribute power around my home.

This method would work in my residence during a storm or between vehicles and tents while I am bugging out. If I end up at a farm, I can replicate my home concept. The system is modular and extremely flexible. Additionally, if I need to power other devices that are not 12 volt, I can use the DC to DC converters as we have discussed previously. 

Conclusion

Power distribution does not have to be expensive, that is as long as you manage expectations. Another thing that we recommend is to stock up on electrical components; whether it be DC to DC converters, terminal connectors/ends, and electrical wire. These things would be very hard to replace in a grid-down environment. 

Last modified on Wednesday, 18 December 2013 19:26
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