Home Electric Generators

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  • Home Electric Generators

    I don't know much about electrical generators, except what I see advertised and in local stores like HF, Lowes, and Home Depot. I've considered one in the past when I've been faced with power outages, but in all my experiences, they've been very short term, more a matter of a few hours. In which case I've always had plenty of lights, batteries, etc. and even communications with my ham radio equipment.

    Unfortunately our son is now faced with the problem! He moved to the New Orleans area just about three months ago and purchased a home in Harahan, which is like a northern suburb. His home survived with only minor damage with trees down in the back yard and a few shingles gone and the fence bordering his neighbor blown over. But like the millions in his area, they lost their main electrical power, phone and cable service as well as water service.

    One of his neighbors has a Generac system and just before they evacuated they told our son that he could plug into that. I got a call the night before Ida landed asking what size extension cord was needed. That was plugged in late the next morning when the wind had subdued. With that, they were able to at least run the refrigerator, a small window A/C, and some lights.

    Just a few hours ago, electricity was restored in his neighborhood and now planning for the next hurricane is on the table for key people at his plant. The phone is still a problem as is water at this point. Fortunately he lives within the boundary of the New Orleans levy system that was rebuilt after Katrina; the rest of the area of course is a disaster.

    So now, the question of getting his own generator has come up and as I understand it at this point, generators for other key personnel at that plant. As our son describes his days, it's 24/7 with constant phone meetings, no internet and spotty cell service. (I haven't been able to get more than a ten minute phone conversation with him.)

    My lack of knowledge at this point is that the typical portable generator might be helpful, but for only a short period to power the house and home office. Typically for $700 or more, you've got less than 8,000 watt capabilitiy running close to half load and consuming at least five gallons of gas in a half day period. Gas is too dangerous to hoard and at this moment it's in short supply with long lines of very aggrevated people. (There was a shooting yesterday in a neighboring area.) On top of that, you've only got 'extension cord' capacity unless you hire an electrician and add an automatic switcing panel. Add to that the question of where are you going to store the generator, gas, etc. (He had a shed destroyed by falling trees and most likely that was where he would have stored a generator. You certainly can't keep in it the house or on the patio and carbon monoxide is a problem unless you use your head (already several people have died because of poor generator placement)

    My thoughts are that the only long-term solution is something like a Generac (which is what his neighbor has). I don't know of other brands or solutions and hence the purpose of this post to get experienced advice that I can pass on to him.

    Thanks in advance,

    Think it Through Before You Do!

  • #2
    Every time I think about gasoline generators I keep coming back to these issues.
    1. keeping enough gasoline as you said they can go through mutliple gallons of gas in a day.
      1. 5 gallons f gas is hard to handle.
      2. gasoline doesn't keep well for months on end (stabilizer, having to rotate though your car)
      3. Danger of storing gasoline
      4. problems of finding gasoline in a storm/emergency situation is going to be hard
    2. Carbon monoxide issues... can't have too close to or heaven forbid in the house or garage.
    3. Security issues
      1. theft, how to secure to house and protect from elements
      2. in use, in a blackedout neighborhood your possession of a very desirable generator is made very obvious by the lights and noise. Making it a target when you are not there.
      3. If you don't have a permenent transfer panel it is wired into then you will have to run a cord into your house for fridge, lights other use which makes your home more vulnerable
      4. Perhaps a dedicated shed attached to the back of the garage with security, soundproofing and access to transfer switch connection
    4. Maintenance issues. -
      1. change oil every so many hours
      2. have to start and run at least every month so you know it will be available
      3. service and maintenance for problems when it doesn't run at the periodic checks.
    5. Transfer switcg - another cost item but high recommended to help solve
    So a Natural gas powered device whole house with auto transfer switch
    Now we are talking big bucks, And natural gas could still go out with extended power outage as compressor stations may fail (although some are run by the gas they compress)
    But they have auto start/test and communicate to your smartphone if they fail. unlimited fuel etc.

    Much better but big bucks.
    Loring in Katy, TX USA
    If your only tool is a hammer, you tend to treat all problems as if they were nails.
    BT3 FAQ - https://www.sawdustzone.org/forum/di...sked-questions


    • #3
      We moved into our current home in 2011. We were prepared at closing by having ordered a portable generator to power the well pump and refrigerator. It runs on LP and I have 4 spare 20 lb. tanks. All extension cords to power what is critical. You cannot live more than a few hours without the well pump running.

      Over time I enhanced the process by making a pass through hole in the concrete block wall with weather tight covers. I keep a log and we have not yet put 50 hours on the generator in 10 years. That said we would have had to move out in 2011 after a 40 hour outage because of storm Sandy.

      I may at a later put in a whole house system but as long as I can still hook up what I have we don't need to change. That would require a new LP setup and wiring for the automatic transfer, probably $15K or more.


      • #4
        If I lived in an area where severe storms were not uncommon, I'd consider a standby home generator. They can run off of natural gas or propane and kick in automatically. $6k - $8K is a bit steep, but the amount of possible loss and inconvenience makes the option attractive to me. We considered one when we built our new home a few years back, but weather created power outages here are rare as the utilities are all buried.
        Jim Frye
        The Nut in the Cellar.
        ”Sawdust Is Man Glitter”


        • #5
          Just saw new product called the EcoFlow Delta Pro. It's a 100 pound portable battery UPS system that can power a whole home, even 240 volt circuits. Brand new, but at $2,700, it looks like a viable product. It's not a Tesla Power Wall, but it's also at LOT less expensive.
          Jim Frye
          The Nut in the Cellar.
          ”Sawdust Is Man Glitter”


          • #6
            I had to address the generator problem 15 years ago when we moved out in the sticks.

            Initially I used a 5000 watt Craftsman generator powered by gasoline and used extension cords to keep the refrigerator and freezer operating. I also used an old then 1000 watt Honda generator to keep necessary house lights, battery chargers and box fans operating. (LED lights make this much easier now). I always keep 15-20 gallons of gasoline on hand for the lawn and garden equipment, and top up all fuel tanks when a storm is brewing.

            The first mindset you have to overcome is that you can not practically keep a portable generator operating full time during a power outage due to fuel limitations.
            You have to set up a time schedule to operate for an hour or two to let the refrigerator and freezer cycle through a time or two and do any cooking with microwaves etc.
            Second is that the size of portable generators will not keep the average house large appliances running.
            Refrigerator and freezers are the exceptions but a central air conditioner is impossible to start without a extremely large portable generator, then that’s iffy.

            Prior to hurricane Michael, which took power out for several weeks, I updated my makeshift generator to something with an electric starter.
            I acquired a new Ridgid 8750 surge / 6800 continuous duty portable generator. It is a serious generator that has great portable features with allow it to be moved around like a hand truck. It has never had gasoline in the tank, I immediately converted it to propane operation, making it a dual fuel generator where I can operate it on gasoline when all of my propane is gone.

            I purchased a transfer switch called GenerLink. It is installed by your local utility company….. not residential electricians. This switch so installed between your electric power meter and the meter base. It provides whole house electric service up to 50 amps and requires the homeowner to manage the power distribution by turning off the appropriate breakers to the central ac, water heater, stove and any high amperage consumption devices that you will not be able to power up. The power cord from the generator plugs directly into the bottom of the GenerLink so no extension cords are required.

            For propane storage I planned on installing a 100+gal tank. (We do not have natural gas service) to be shared with the water heater, but found a supply of 20lb. propane tanks (gas grill bottles) and currently have 12 20lb. filled tanks on hand stored under the wood shed roof. I found that 1 propane tank will operate the generator 1 1/2 days with judicial use. Propane is expensive fuel but unlike gasoline it stores indefinitely. When I have the tanks refilled I do so at a propane supply co, not a curb store.

            As Lchien stated, security is an issue for portable generators. I store mine in the house garage and operate it on the driveway near the power meter. When it is not operating at night I roll it back into the garage or the shop. No sense in tempting anyone.

            I did find that this generator will operate my shop AC so if the temperature is to high to sleep comfortably without house ac. A blow up mattress in the shop is our back up plan. This generator will also operate my well so it will allow us to take showers and have running water to share with the neighborhood. ( breaker must be managed ) The water heater can also be operated allowing for hot showers, also by managing the breaker.

            I think the cost of generator, GenerLink and propane tanks was aprox $1,500. During this long power outage many of my friends lost untold thousands of dollars worth of vegetables and meat. Many just evacuated to areas that had power and came home to a real mess with the refrigerator and freezer.



            • #7
              Ah, coming home after a power outage reminded me of an episode the nextdoor neighbor had at our old home. They had gone on vacation and we had a power outage as the infrastructure there was really old. When they returned, they found the freezer in the garage was full of rotting meat. Local code specifies CGFI outlets in garages and outside. The freezer was plugged into the protected outlet and the circuit didn't re-energize when the power came back on.
              Jim Frye
              The Nut in the Cellar.
              ”Sawdust Is Man Glitter”


              • #8
                Thankyou all,

                Very good information and great amount of experience. I see that I was not too far off in my knowledge. The one thing that didn't come to mind was the security issues of someone just driving away with your new generator in the back of their truck.

                They don't have basements there as the ground water is too high. They also don't have a garage, I'm not sure why that that is or whether it's a common practice. Personally, I couldn't live in there as the heat and humidity would immobalize me.

                My thinking is that a permanent installation is probably the best alternative but the cost is certainly a challenge. Our son does very well, but as I said, he just bought the place and his mortgage is something else; property is not cheap in that area. Hopefully I'll get to talk to him sometime in the next day or two and we'll see where we go from there.

                Thanks again to you all for your insight and experience. If anything else comes to mind, please add to your already valued help,

                Think it Through Before You Do!


                • #9
                  My fear for a natural gas whole house generator is the pump stations go down. I don’t know the statistics of that happening. People that I know in rural areas like mine operate on propane and all have a large tank, probably 250 gallons. That is gas for cooking and heating, gas grills etc, and is refilled during the summer when the propane prices are the lowest.

                  When I purchased the GenerLink transfer switch I learned that some municipalities utility systems purchase them and lease them to customers on a cheap monthly rate, like a security light. I think this is incentive to keep customers from conjuring up adapter to back feed into the clothes dryer 220 outlet.


                  • LCHIEN
                    LCHIEN commented
                    Editing a comment
                    Natural Gas pumping stations are logically powered by natural gas. Instrumentation (electrical) required will be from automatic switchover from grid power to local natural gas powered generators. I'm not 100% sure of this but as an engineer nothing else makes much sense.

                • #10
                  Thank you for point that out Isabella! That reminds me of something I recently learned. My Bro in-law I had a Generac whole house system installed several years ago. It is powered off the existing home propane tank. Before he purchased the Generac we had discussed the scenarios to reduce fuel consumption by cutting off unnecessary air conditioning etc and shutting the generator off at night when they go to bed. In our latest discussion after a several day outage he said that the Generac did not have a means of shutting it off at nighttime or any other time you want to save fuel. Anyone heard this before?


                  • #11
                    Unless you are using it for an RV type sitaution as well, as Loring said, gasoline generators pose some rather substantial risks. Having said that there is no shortage of dual fuel, or propane fueled generators.

                    The tempation will be to run the entire house on your generator. Possibly not worth it. The bigger the generator, even at idle, the more fuel it uses.

                    I have a 1000w generator that will run my small window AC and a 300w solar panel / charge controller / inverter that can run my fridge no problem. Everything else is just fluff. The generator will go through 1.5 gallons of gas a day.

                    My neighbor has a 2200w generator that is dual fuel and he goes through a full BBQ cylinder of propane every 2 days running it full steam.
                    Please like and subscribe to my YouTube channel. Please check out and subscribe to my Workshop Blog.


                    • #12
                      DB, my sentiments exactly. Get by until the real electricity comes back on, maintain a presence in the house to ward off the bad guys and preserve the perishables in the refrigerator and freezer if possible. The only kink in my plan is my well requires a minimum of 50 amps to operate. I would much perfer feeding a 2000 watt over my 7800 watt generator.


                      • #13
                        Originally posted by capncarl View Post
                        DB, my sentiments exactly. Get by until the real electricity comes back on, maintain a presence in the house to ward off the bad guys and preserve the perishables in the refrigerator and freezer if possible. The only kink in my plan is my well requires a minimum of 50 amps to operate. I would much perfer feeding a 2000 watt over my 7800 watt generator.
                        Have you considered charging a battery and using it to run an inverter when you want to pump water from your well? I presume it runs intermittently and you just need an high current but intermittent source. Then you can run a battery charger off the low power generator at a trickle charge or even from solar?
                        HF has a 5000W/10,000Peak watt inverter for $420, may cost less than a generator. I guess it depends on the duty cycle and peak vs running watts.

                        Loring in Katy, TX USA
                        If your only tool is a hammer, you tend to treat all problems as if they were nails.
                        BT3 FAQ - https://www.sawdustzone.org/forum/di...sked-questions


                        • capncarl
                          capncarl commented
                          Editing a comment
                          No I haven’t considered that! When there is a power outage there is always a lot of confusion, usually dark and raining. I made the decision to skip trying to rig up an undersized generator and back feed power in through my welding receptical and installed a legal transfer switch and use a decent size propane powered generator. With my current generator set up I connect directly to my power meter base through a GenerLink 50 amp transfer switch. I manually operate the breaker for the well when we need much water for whatever reason. Usually the 100 gallon pressure storage water tank located at the well will supply multiple toilet flushings and hand washings. I’ve had to start up the generator several times just to operate the well. When doing this we turn off breakers for all high amperage devices, just to be safe. When the 220v 1.5 hp well pump comes on there is a noticeable strain on the generator. The previous 5000 watt generator would almost bog down. The submerged well pump is probably 200 feet from the generator. Unlike my Bro-in-laws Generac running the full duration of the outage we monitor the refrigerator and freezers temperature and operate our generator 4-5 hours every 24 hours, making my propane supply last hopefully 20 days, maybe. The shop window ac keeps the shop temperature tolerable so we hibernate there if the house gets too hot. I never realized just how cold well water was until I tried to take a shower in it.