A Nurse with a Gun

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Portable Generators

It looks as though we have dodged another hurricane. I am considering a portable generator now. I priced a few around town. There are plenty leftover from hurricane Gustav, from new to factory reconditioned to used. The prices are high, and you pay for having it available right here right now. It seems this one from amazon.com is probably the best deal.
3250 Running Watts/4000 Max Watts
Eastern Tools & Equipment--7 HP OHV Engine
4 Gallon Tank Provides 13.5 Hours Of Run Time At 50% Load
120V GFCI Outlets/240V Twist Lock L14-20R

My needs are keeping the fish tanks going, probable power consumption there would be 350-400 watts without the heaters and lights. If it's winter and the heaters are used I can bump that up to 700 watts. So theoretically, I should be able to run a small window unit air conditioner and the tanks in hurricane season, and if we lose power in the winter, I should be able to keep the tanks going and have wattage to spare for other small items with a 4000 watt generator. I'm busy researching the different types of portable generators. This web page is particularly helpful. Any advice is welcome.



Anonymous kilgor said...

I've nothing but great experiences with Honda small engines. Others like Briggs & Stratton and Tecumseh are just ok.

10:10 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Depending you may want to keep your fridge/freezer running too. But I believe that might be difficult with a portable type generator that size.

I'm not an electrician or an electrical engineer, but I am a licensed mechanical engineer. I'll tell you what I did for my parents who have problems with water in their basement when the power is out. I bought a 10kW honda generator from Northern Tool, portable with the wheel kit but weighs close to 300lbs.

Anyway I added a 30 or 40 amp breaker into their panel and wired it to a "generator receptacle" in the garage. Then when the power is out you open the main breaker, connect the generator to this receptacle, and back feed the panel. Then the whole house is essentially powered.

Of course there isn't enough capacity to power the whole house but the basement pumps, freezer, fridge, lights, furnace, other essential items are powered. I told them to keep as many lights, etc off as possible so there's no chance to over load the generator.

The big thing to remember is to make sure the main breaker is open so that you don't backfeed the main power lines while the power is out. When it comes back on you have to reverse the procedure.

-Big Matt from THR.

10:21 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The Honda generators are IMHO the quietest and best on the market. The website you linked to has very good information about sizing. Get one big enough to run your refrigerator/freezer as well as your other needs as listed.

10:36 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Look at the Hondas. More reliable, but probably more expensive.

10:37 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Look for a Honda. More reliable.

10:38 AM  
Blogger R Ryan said...

Here's a couple of suggestions on generators from Consumer Reports. Hope you find these useful.

"Figure on $500 to $1,000 for installing stationary generators and, for all types, at least $500 for a power-transfer switch to power hardwired circuits and avoid having to run extension cords."

"Also remember that manufacturers often overstate run time for gasoline models by basing it on 50 percent load. Our run times use a more conservative, 80 percent load."

10:43 AM  
Blogger nature223 said...

Xav...with that light a loading,it should do ok...but you MIGHT want to look at HONDA products..those no name chinese ones worry me,safety wise,not to mention parts and reliability.honda's are a breeze to work on,compared to some chinese lab experiment foisted on the public,and made from sCRAP metal,forged with a blowtorch in some chinese backwoods.

10:49 AM  
Blogger Kevin said...

Get a muti fuel one! We had a 28 hour outage last summer after a serious storm. Our old 3KW portable generator would not start without cleaning the varnish out of the carb, and there after it was temperamental. So we researched, and went for a LP full house standby. But it was a close decision, if the portable tri-fuel models would have been available and not on 10 week backorder we would have jumped that way. The trifuels run Gasoline, Natural and LP gas.
We live too far out for natural gas, so we went LP. A standard LP tank for the grill will run our 8KW for 8 hours. The 100 LB construction tank will last over 24 hours. Didn't bother getting a large tank yet, since we heat by oil, and have a few 100lb tanks in the garage.

Now if you have Natural Gas, you can hook up the portable to the line and run it forever if needed.

Look into automatic transfer switches, well worth it. We got our guardian 8KW standby from electricgeneratorsdirect.com
Check them out, good peope to deal with.

11:01 AM  
Blogger Turk Turon said...

You might want to look into "pure sine wave" generators. Some appliances may not work well without a pure sine wave, and some people have reported an annoying "hum" from ceiling fans, loud enough to keep one awake at night.

11:06 AM  
Blogger stbaguley said...

The leavings from Ike are soaking us now, just messy not dangerous. More need for shop vacs than generators. That said, I've been looking at generators for a couple of years. Ever since I learned that My Dagwood Bumstead like love of an afternoon nap was actually pathological sleep deprivation brought on by sleep apnea. Borg like, I cannot sleep without electricity. I hate the bipap machine but I don't nap anymore, and I have a new lease on life, badly needed too. . Sadly the power dependency has destroyed my ability to spend more than a couple of days in the woods. Boundary waters canoe trips are out. I can miss a night of sleep if the power goes out and be pretty normal on day 2 but I spend day 2 looking for a working outlet to avoid day 3. I can fall asleep, but as soon as I do my airway closes, my breathing stops and I awake, hypoxic, in a flood of adrenaline. (The sleep lab said about 300 times per night. Relaxing huh?) Like your fish tanks, I can go awhile without power but there is a steep downslope. I looked into computer type uninterruptible power supplies too and deep discharge batteries like the fishermen use for trolling motors. But the power does not go out very often around here. (Insert base line music and apocalyptic fantasy of your choice here.)

11:30 AM  
Anonymous FatWhiteMan said...

Better check Harbor Freight. I bought a 3200 that I used to build an entire house from, getting electricity service only just before drywall. Price at Harbor Freight, $299.

11:40 AM  
Blogger Medic2RN said...

X, I am also in the market for a home generator. I live in the Northeast and we are way over due for a big storm. I am looking at the propane generators b/c I believe it will be easier for the Mrs. to work and she will not have to worry about putting fuel in it. I have just started this process so I may be wrong. I'll let you know what I find out.

Stay Safe.

11:41 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Having been that route, I can't recommend one of those lawn mower engined, big box store generators. Let me count the ways why.(1)Even the Honda generators(arguably the best) are over optimistically rated for output.(2)They have very little torque, so don't handle starting loads any too well. Gas consumption is also optimistically rated since you are likely to pull a greater load than anticipated. (4)Maintenance and replacement parts are far greater than a similarly rated diesel engine. I would look around for a good used diesel welder. One mounted on a trailer like the lawncare guys use with a large fuel tank and possibly room for a couple of extra fuel drums could save a lot of trouble getting fuel during those times when travel is a problem. I absolutely recommend getting an electrician to hook up a disconnect box. You have no way of predicting when the power will come back on and having both hooked up and running is the definition of bad juju! Not to mention you run the risk of electrocuting lineman who wont know you have power running down the line as well to your house. Finally, one of those would likely run your entire house including central air, electric hot water tank and fridge. You will likely need that electrician to go over your electric bill, so he can advise what size generator you will need. I would recommend at least one third over capacity and calculate fuel burn at 100% throttle per hour. That will allow you figure how much fuel you need for say, two weeks. Please keep us advised on what you end up doing. This stuff is almost(notice I said almost)as interesting as 1911s!

11:41 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I looked at the generator-advice web page. It's good advice. Based on my near 20 years in industrial technology, including 6 in the electric motor business, I would add that you should oversize a generator rather than undersize. When you're adding up your expected power consumption include everything that the generator will be powering, down to the last lightbulb. (Volts X Amps = Watts) And inquire into the duty rating of the unit you're buying. Is it rated to run 24/7 for long periods, or for lesser time frames? Manufacturers will also sometimes play games with their maximum temperature ratings. And also make sure you store the unit properly. Most electrical windings are insulated with water-based resin which can absorb moisture over time, degrading the insulation. Be sure to ask about proper storage, and how long-term storage will affect it, and the warranty.

Uh, sorry, I just went off.


3:29 PM  
Blogger Ed said...

What have been your average electricty down times over the storms/years and do you have a huge fuel tank?

3:39 PM  
Blogger Ed said...

How long have your power outages been for in the past storms/years and how large is your fuel tank/tanks?

3:45 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have a honda engine powered "Black Max" generator from Sams Club. I have only used it to make sure it works. What I have noticed is that it runs at full speed (3600 rpm) to make 60 Hz, all the time. It is loud even when you do not need the electrical output. Based on this observation I would suggest one of the Honda *brand* generators which are made completely by Honda. They have units which synthesize the 60 Hz AC so that the gasoline engine does not have to run at 3600 rpm all the time. You will appreciate the peace and quiet when you actually have to use the thing. IMHO the "usability" of a generator depends on the amount of noise and thrashing it makes. The less the better.

3:59 PM  
Anonymous FondrenLawyer said...

I live in Mississippi and had to run off a generator for several weeks after Katrina and recently during the bad weather. My model is a Troy-Bilt 5000w with a Briggs & Stratton engine. I ran two refrigerators, a microwave, a few lights, a stereo, and my computer system off it without any problems.

The number one bit of advice I can give you is to, no matter what, get a model with an electric start. This makes it possible to start the unit easily, even if you're dead tired or your wife is home alone and has to operate it.

Happy hunting!

4:28 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


Here's a link to the Generator FAQ thread from the Preparedness segment on Gunboards.


4:32 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

IF you have natural gas available, and IF you can swing it, a fixed whole house backup generator is the way to go. If you do not - you may want to consider two generators.

The major problem with portable generators is fuel consumption and availability. Here a couple of hundred miles east of you we were on a portable gen for 32 days after Katrina.

The big 8 KW with a Honda 2 cyl did great - but took 10 to 12 gallons of gas a day. That's a serious problem when the only place in town will only sell you 12 gallons a day and you have to drive 20 miles to get there.

A smaller 5500 W Coleman Vanguard did very well also
and fuel consumption was around 8 to 9 gal for 24 hours. But it would not start an 8,000 BTU room air conditioner.

I bought a 1 KW "pure sine" Honda that is pretty much a fuel sipper. I have not run it 24 straight yet but it appears it should go the time for maybe three gallons of fuel.

That should be great for keeping my ham rig going for emergency communications and a couple of CFL's so I don't break a toe stumbling over stuff in the dark. And a fan. Don't forget the fan!

One of the mini generators should do fine for the fish tank pumps, along with a bit of light, a fan, with sufficient headroom.

A larger generator for 6 to 8 hours a day will keep the frozen food frozen and the milk cold. If you have plenty of gas it will run an 8 to 10,000 BTU window unit - or a really large fan.

Enjoy the gun pix and comments!


4:57 PM  
Anonymous ~FriedCheese said...

I would recommend something like this... way more options, I know it's much larger then you need, but sometimes more is better, right?

[url]http://www.northerntool.com/webapp/wcs/stores/servlet/product_6970_419355_419355 [/url]

Tri fuel generator is the unit (which for my needs is still too much) gets colder here then there. So we wouldn't freeze to death with this unit. Plus if the gas is still on I can hook it up, or use the propane tanks.
I own 1 generator (small) and it''l do fine with a room heater, and a few lights, but that's about it.

Just my .02


5:17 PM  
Blogger jon spencer said...

I vote with the Honda people and I mean a Honda branded generator.
Not a off brand generator with a Honda prime mover.
The one we have at hunting camp is over 12 years old and it has many, many, many hours on it.
Keep the oil changed and the filters clean and yours should run just about forever.

5:27 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Another 'gotcha' to watch out for - many appliances, especially those with pumps (such as the compressor on a typical refrigerator) requires significantly more power as they are started up - something in the ballpark of a factor of two. If they are denied this extra power, they can be damaged.

This means that a generator sized to run a refrigerator might not have enough power to safely start it. Needles to say, hilarity will ensure.

Also be advised that sensitive electronics such as computers can be damaged by the unconditioned power produced by most generators. Power conditions are available, but pricey.

6:48 PM  
Anonymous Standard Mischief said...

AC motors typically need several times their running load to start.

I have very little experience except for the one I borrowed after Isabel around here. I found that if the fridge or deep freeze is kept shut, you only need to run it for 2 hours a day to keep everything frozen. Anything that you need to pull out of the fridge to eat should be done just after you've kicked over the compressor motor for the day.

What "-Big Matt from THR" is suggesting is called a "suicide cord". I'm not bashing Matt and I didn't invent the name, that's just what they are called. If you are 100% sure you threw the main breaker and 100% sure that you can keep kids, dogs, and ignorant people away from the setup they are safe. Otherwise get a pro to do one of those switchover things. I will admit that I have a special cord made up myself.

You may want to lock that generator up to something solid. Perhaps you could plan ahead and cement an anchor in to the ground? Otherwise, chain the setup to a truck or something.

8:37 PM  
Blogger Ruth said...

Used to work for a home supply store, and although I don't have a generator myself I can tell you the general reactions of my customers.

The Honda brand is generally one of the best, but all the comments on fuel consumption are definetly something to keep in mind, any portable is going to eat fuel.

Definetly consider the requirements to add at least the fridge to the power needs and either fans and or heaters for various weather usage. That way you're all set if the outage is longer than a day or two.

Considering the number of storms you guys have gotten lately you might want to consider having one actually installed. It can still be a smaller model, if you don't need the whole house powered then don't spend that much, but they can be built right into the house lines and fuel source, which means much less hassle in an emergency, and they're generally more fuel consistant. Cost's lots yes, but generally worth it in the long run.

9:29 PM  
Blogger Clay said...

Be careful about how much load you put on a generator. You always want to be well within it's rating for 3 reasons:

#1- The lower the RPM's the engine runs at, the closer to its max efficiency point. That will mean the most power for the least amount of gas.

#2- The waveform from the generator won't stay as smooth as intricate equipment. A/C units are especially prone to this type of problem.

#3- Initial loads from things like refrigerators are HUGE. For the first 2 seconds or so, they suck huge amounts of amps.

I second the natural gas powered generator idea. Natural gas lines are buried, durable, and are kept pressurized even if part of the network goes down.

10:42 PM  
Anonymous Guntotin_fool said...

screw the gas powered generators, they just suck fuel,

bite the bullet and buy a diesel, a good one, and you will get 3 or 4 days of power out of a 5 gallon fillup.

I have an Onan 14KW which will idle off load for 12 days before running dry, adding power will drop that of course, but if you let it run, it never seems to burn any fuel.

We also have the house on a natural gas standby genset, which is wired into the house, we loose power about twice a year for a couple days when storms hit, and the new standby gensets never even let you notice a flicker....Do it right, the little ones also can not run on much of an extension cord and manage to gas (CO) quite a few people every year because you have to keep them close to what you are powering.

1:48 AM  
Blogger Jess said...

A honda inverter generator or pro installed permanent unit are the only way to go.

The honda inverter generators will throttle back to whatever load they have, saving gas. Non-inverter generators only throttle back when there is no load.

9:45 AM  
Blogger Jay said...

Not sure what your natural gas infrastructure is like down there in LA, but here in Oklahoma the inline natural gas generators are popular. While power lines may be interrupted, the gas lines are rarely affectd since they're buried several feet down.

Power goes out...kicks back on in a few seconds and you never have to refill.

9:46 AM  
Blogger Bruce said...

Our portable 5,000W generator ties into the transfer switch in the basement when needed.

More than enough juice to power the five circuits it's connected to: microwave, fridge, propane furnace, well pump, and hot water heater.

And, an extension cord for the laptop (or radio, TV, coffee maker, lights, whatever).

9:56 AM  
Blogger Bruce said...

Also, to keep the power demand down, we shut off the fridge circuit for a few hours every so often. Even with the fridge going, we can run the generator all night 'til morning and then some.

10:01 AM  
Blogger Andrew said...

I put in a Generac whole-house unit for about $4000 about five years ago. It runs on natural gas and has an automatic switchover system, so it fires up by itself even if we're away -- something your fish would appreciate.

11:29 AM  
Anonymous Martini said...

ok first off I have two portables, both coleman powermate w/ briggs and stratton engines. +1 to Big Matt, I am going to have that done for my house soon. Standard Mischief is incorrect. Suicide cords generally don't involve opening the main breaker or having dedicated circuits. If an electrician wires in a cutover adn you open the mains it is safe and reliable on a low budget.
That said, a good generator that will reliably run your fridg, freezer, fish tanks, some lights and a fan or two will run you 500 to 800. Include an electrician for the switch and you are looking at 1k to 1400 or so. and you still have to deal with Gas and regular maint(please don't forget the maint, I had a generator go out over gustav b/c my grandfather had not started it since katrina... glad we had two). you can get an 8kw unit for about 1600 plus install and incidentals you are looking at more like 2500 (have to add plumbing in the nat gas) you stil have to start it once a month and change the oil regularly, but the ease of use is huge. and the price difference it not as bad as it could be. only thing to remember is that you have to step up to more like 12 to 15 kw to add your Whole House A/C and if you want to get to a seamless transition and run your whole house you will need to step up to closer to 20Kw. but it is doable on a budget. the reason I have two generators now is that my grandfather is installing a 22kw at the house in Metairie, and doing the whole thing for about 7k. that will be completely seamless and test itself every month.
sorry for the length of the post.

12:03 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Alot of good slid comments have been posted.

I have a Coleman Powermate 1850 (1850 running, 2K max) and it works like a charm. I broke it in a while ago by changing the oil after 24 hours of use, then again after another 50 hours. Then, I swapped out spark plugs and changed oil to Mobile-1 synthetic.

Starts with 2 pulls and is just fine for emergencies.

I would HIGHLY recommend getting a nice Honda inverter model if you don't need 220v AC. the 2000 and 3000 models are $900 and $1500 respectively, but, you get a FANTASTIC gen for the money. electric start and low oil shutdown.

Buy once, cry once.

5:20 PM  
Anonymous AR said...

Another thing to remember: The gensets that run at 3600 rpm, aren't designed for long haul use. Most of them fail fairly soon. If it runs at slower speed, like an Onan or the Generac's, the generator is wound different. These are made to run a long time. I used to work on 20 - 50 KW gens in the broadcast industry. Slower engine rpms to make 60 Hz is best. Those inverter type Hondas are excellent for computers, radios, etc that need pure sine wave. Hopefully I found a deal on an Onan out of a RV. Good Luck and good hunting! de....AR

3:00 PM  
Blogger Lynne said...

I've been looking at portable generators on the internet. Doesn't seem that anyone has anything available and those who do are price gouging.
Cummins Onan are known for their quality products, warranty, after-market service. They have dealers and distributors EVERYWHERE!! They also come with a 2 year warranty.
As a Cummins Distributor, I am able to provide discounting on our generators. Since Ike's havoc, we have limited quantities. I still have a few 2000/2200Watt portable generators $380.00 FOB. Let me know if you are interested.

12:49 PM  
Blogger Rorschach said...

Xav, I'd start parolling the pawn shops. I'd be willing to bet that now that MOST of the people who lost power to Gustav are now looking at the genset they had as potential collateral for a loan to repair their house. A number will start showing up in the pawn shops for sale. I picked up a used Honda powered (but not a Honda inverter type unfortunately) generic 3100 watt unit at a pawn shop for about $260 on the day before the storm hit and it has run like a champ virtually the entire time. I still don't have power but I have a functioning refrigerator and freezer. but for whole house use, I'm going to patrol the pawn shops in a bit and see if I can pick up a 5kw+ one for conversion to NG fuelled stationary use.

12:38 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

If your buying a generator for the occasional emergency use only than it makes no sense to buy a super expensive unit. A basic portable generator will do just fine.

I have a Briggs 10 HP 5000 watt generator that will run the whole house except the central air and the elect stove. Now a little common sense toward energy management is required but remember, your just trying to survive for a few days with basic utilities, a furnace, fridge, freezer, coffee pot, a microwave, TV and a few other basic essentials.

Also fuel consumption is a primary concern. the bigger the generator the more fuel consumed. I have converted my generator to run on natural gas which is much more economical than gasoline, plus I don't have to get up in the middle of the night to refuel. It also runs quieter with less exhaust oder. Additionally, a transfer switch makes hooking up and running the whole house so much easier.

Again, a little common sense with an eye toward the pocketbook will go a long way. You don't want to go too big or too small. Figure out what is essential, add 25% and go from there.

7:50 PM  

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