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2 Days With No Electricity

Post in 'The Hearth Room - Wood Stoves and Fireplaces' started by Mo Heat, Jan 16, 2007.

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  1. Firewoodguy.com

    Firewoodguy.com New Member

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    Don't they sell portable generators out in your neck of the woods ??

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  2. vgrund

    vgrund Feeling the Heat

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    Of course we do. How would one have helped me during the last outage, while I was away on vacation? Perhaps you missed that point which I mentioned many pages ago in this long thread.

    :)
  3. Gooserider

    Gooserider Mod Emeritus

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    That is basically the bottom line issue - you can get cheap "portable" (in some cases "portable with hernia" :bug: ) generators that will barely do just what you need, but require fairly extensive hookup, configuration, and starting drills that you have to physically be there for; or you can get fancy, EXPEN$IVE, fixed-installation units that "just work" whether someone is there to babysit them or not.

    Unfortuneately, there doesn't seem to be any sort of easy "happy medium" approach that falls in between. In theory one could build such a setup, but the costs would probably approach the cost of a pre-install unit, and given how little such a setup actually gets used, there really isn't a payback on the savings in operating costs.

    Indeed, I wonder how much REAL difference there is in operating costs... Earlier in the thread, Castiron said the LP whole-house units cost $25-50/day to run. I forget the exact numbers, but it seems most of the mid-size portables (~5KW) talk about a 10-12 hour runtime @50% load, using a 5-10 gallon fuel tank - at $2.25/gallon for gas, that works out to between $1-2/hr, doesn't sound much different... Of course the whole-house unit does sound like it can put out a whole bunch more demand, so you won't have to do as much worrying about load balancing, rationing the lights, etc...

    So if the operating costs are the same, the only significant difference is in the costs for the units themselves - the portables seem to average $500-1,000, and the whole-house setups are closer to $3K installed. Is it worth the difference?

    IMHO the first question is evaluating the risks - if you are home, the portable solution will do about as well as the fixed one - assuming you can get the fuel for it (if your area looses power, how hard will it be to find a gas station that can pump? MOST stations don't have backup power, so if the juice goes out their gas isn't accessible) but if you aren't home, and you don't have a really clueful neighbor that knows how to do all the setup and runtime drill that your configuration requires, then you are in the same shape you'd be if you didn't have a generator at all. OTOH, with the pre-installed setup, you are pretty much guaranteed that your backup will work, whether you are home or not....

    If you think you will be home the cheap alternative will work.

    If you spend a lot of time away from home, then your going to be better off with the more expensive unit that doesn't need you to make it work.

    The second question would be the "hassle factor" The whole house units "just work" - no pain, no problem, power goes out, generator goes on and takes over everything. The amount of babysitting required is minimal.
    A portable unit's hassle factor will depend on the individual setup, but is almost certain to be FAR more difficult. You will need to get the unit to someplace safe to run it - no engines inside! You will need to get it started - probably with a recoil starter. You will need to either tie into your house circuit (don't forget to pull the main!) or run extension cords to all the "vital" appliances, and possibly do breaker resets to disable stuff you don't need/want running... Probably this is something that will take more time, more physical strength, more work, etc. Is it something that the less skilled members of the household are going to be able to do? Once you get going, you will probably need to spend more time babysitting the setup to keep it fueled, etc. So is the hassle factor worth it?

    IF one was designing and building a house from scratch, it would probably be possible to do a setup that would give some savings by segregating "vital" and non-vital circuits and then getting a smaller whole-house unit in, or at least making an easier hookup for a portable setup, but this really doesn't change anything else...

    In theory, the portable unit has the advantage that one can pick it up and take it someplace else for temporary power - but don't forget that if you do, it is no longer available for use as backup power at home...

    Its a debate the GF and I are still having - we can't really justify the cost of a whole-house unit, but aren't sure the lower benefit and added hassles of a portable unit are worth it. We also have the advantage that our power is generally pretty reliable - it seldom goes out, and when it does rarely goes for more than an hour or two, which is only a problem for our sump-pumps. The pumps don't usually kick in for a day or two after a storm, so the power is unlikely to still be out by the time they would really be needed.... So we aren't sure if we need ANYTHING

    Gooserider

    Gooserider
  4. Hbbyloggr

    Hbbyloggr New Member

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    Goose,

    I liken the idea of a generator more to having an extra insurance policy to protect your assets, namely your home and families well being. It's our effort to be self insuring on a preventative basis rather than after the damage is done. The cost of running the generator for a couple of days is no more than the day to day insurance costs associated with our business. Not all power outages last only a couple of hours. While I notice the duration and frequency are less for outages, they are not eliminated.

    Our out door furnace, well pump , sump pump and shop functions are assets that need to be protected for the well being of our family and business. Certainly, to quibble over $ 20-30 bucks a day for fuel is trivial when the potential loss runs into tens of thousands of dollars.
  5. Gooserider

    Gooserider Mod Emeritus

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    I agree that the cost of fuel isn't a big issue, certainly not worth quibbling over - if you need it, you need it. What I was pointing out was simply that the fuel costs weren't really all that much DIFFERENT between a portable unit and a whole-house job - making the arguement even less relevant.

    I also agree that the generator is basically an insurance policy - and by that standard, the difference between units is sort of like the difference between different levels of policy - questions like what sorts of things are covered, and how big is the deductible.... Similarly like any other kind of insurance, you also have to evaluate how likely you are to NEED the coverage - The house on a mountaintop is less likely to benefit from flood insurance than the neighbor in the valley - In our case, we seldom loose power at all, and I think the LONGEST we've been out in our 13 years in this house has been less than seven hours. To me this says that we don't have a huge need for a generator compared to our friends in the NH woods that loose power quite regularly, and have been out as long as a couple of days at a time....

    Gooserider
  6. Hbbyloggr

    Hbbyloggr New Member

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    Goose,

    I can't agree with you more. If there really isn't the need, such as in your case, then it's not worth the expense. As some have posed earlier, a 12vdc battery and a LCD light is all they need.
    Some of us have more at risk ,and as such, prepare for those times with a little more horsepower.

    I think you're right about the price difference between the portable generator and a full time whole house unit. I've had plenty of small (5kw to 10 kw generators ) and circuit transfer switches, now with the 30kw set and one "on-off-on" transfer switch the costs between the two systems are pretty much the same.
  7. vgrund

    vgrund Feeling the Heat

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    Definitely it's an insurance policy. In my case, I'm getting one after a loss. The idea being, let's not have that happen again. It is easy to justify the investment in terms of avoided expenses.

    Here's another scenario. Thinking back to the New Hampshire "Mother's Day" floods of last year... My sump pump was running like mad, which is unusual, but is was an unusual weekend. We have a 12V battery backup pump, but I think we would've been royally screwed if we lost power.

    Victor
  8. Gooserider

    Gooserider Mod Emeritus

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    We also have a sump pump, and it runs pretty steadily about 1-2 months out of the year, typically during the spring thaw / mud season for a few weeks or so, and then sometimes for a day or two if we have one of those real heavy soaker 3-4 day rain storms, but not during the storm, rather a day or two later when the water actually soaks into the ground and pushes up the water table for a bit.

    We have a dual sump pump setup for safety sake, with a water alarm that will come on if the first pump fails and the water gets high enough to need the second one. (Either pump alone is overkill for the amount of water we get) but we don't have a battery setup. We looked at getting one, but every sales person we talked to about it, advised against it as they felt the battery units didn't give enough pump time to be worth the expense.

    If the pumps don't work, we are probably not going to get more than about 3-6" of water in the basement - annoying, but not tragic. This comes from when the GF bought the house from one half of a couple going through a nasty divorce. The week before closing, the ex pulled the plug on the pumps as he left the house, which the GF discovered doing a walkthrough the morning of the closing. She got an adjustment on the price, but was able to dry the place back out without needing to actually replace any of the rugs or wall stuff in the finished basement - which had about 3" of water.

    Looking at when our sumps run, we don't feel it's a big risk - Spring thaw isn't a likely time for a major power loss. The aftermath of a storm is more of a question, but given the lag between when a storm hits and when we start pumping, I figure it likely that if we did lose power, it would be back by the time we really needed it.

    We also have a freezer, which is possibly more of a concern - but again our longest outage has been on the order of 6-7 hours, and a freezer is supposed to be good for about 12-24 hours if you keep the doors closed.

    IOW, it doesn't seem to us like we have a big enough risk exposure to justify the "premium" cost of getting a generator.

    Gooserider
  9. Hbbyloggr

    Hbbyloggr New Member

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    Goose,

    We'll keep the light on for ya'.
  10. velvetfoot

    velvetfoot Minister of Fire

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    The good thing about a portable generator is that it's portable, which may make it more worthwhile to a person not needing instant-on standby power. I used mine last fall to power some tools about 400' from the house. PS: I put the generator on a hand truck which made it pretty easy to move around.
  11. begreen

    begreen Mooderator Staff Member

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    A lot of the portable generators have wheel kits for easy transport. I like the mulitple use option too. A buddy will be borrowing mine to start building his cabin this summer. There are benefits to each system. We really only have to run refrigeration, that is as long as I am willing to keep the stove going 24/7. Everything else is gratis. I would need about 7kw to run the heat pump (actually start, running amps are much lower). That seems a bit silly considering the unit would be running at low capacity 90% of the time. But I will likely convert to a better quality generator and run it on propane, even if I stick with a portable. It's cleaner burning, the fuel doesn't go stale and we have a big blimp full of it.
  12. vgrund

    vgrund Feeling the Heat

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    You're killing me! LOL.
  13. velvetfoot

    velvetfoot Minister of Fire

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    There are kits to convert gas to propane, and I think even dual fuel. I don't know how well they work though.
  14. vgrund

    vgrund Feeling the Heat

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    Yeah, conversion kits exist but I also don't know how well they work. I've seen some portable generators designed from scratch to be dual or trifuel. I think that's what BeGreen had in mind: a new generator. Here's one example:

    http://www2.northerntool.com/product-1/419355.htm

    If I were in the market for a portable I'd look hard at multi-fuel model for versatility. One never knows what fuel will be most convenient in the operating location.

    Victor
  15. begreen

    begreen Mooderator Staff Member

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    I've looked at the multifuels, they are interesting. But I've also heard that some can be tempermental. The last thing I want when it's cold, wet and dark is to be trying to coax an onery beast to life. So easy start is a priority. So far I'm thinking more on the level of one designed to run on propane rather than adapted.
  16. vgrund

    vgrund Feeling the Heat

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    BeGreen, now that you mention it, I agree it is probably best to keep things simple if you are sure you will have sufficient quantities of a particular fuel on hand. Follow the KISS principle.
  17. begreen

    begreen Mooderator Staff Member

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    Yep. And I can always keep a 5 gal bottle on hand for portability.
  18. drizler

    drizler Minister of Fire

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    Nows the time to buy a generator, right after the ice storm and for the next few months. keep an eye on the want ads and you will see them all over as people sell them off. Get something self regulating or hate yourself later and for a long time. For full electric free heat you can get one of those barbecue bottle top Reddy heaters. The 30K btu will heat your house nicely if used carefully and with a CO detector if you have one or by just shutting it off when you are asleep if you don't. For me the worst part of our 10 day ice storm was all the quality " family time". Wimmin just don't react well to emergency situations like that. Thats one thing all that Army training did for me. Its so easy even a cave man can do it.
  19. Mo Heat

    Mo Heat Mod Emeritus

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    The statement is obviously a generalization that doesn't fit all the ladies, especially those here at hearthnet ;) but it actually does apply at my house, at least to some extent. I was happy that everyone remained calm and pretty much went with the program after we all huddled around the insert and got a 12 volt light working... but I was dumbfounded when both my wife and mother-in-law complained until I finally relocated my old coleman "gas" lantern outside the patio door glass... "It stinks. Is that thing safe to burn inside? Eeyew!". And I was patting myself on the back for first finding, and then getting that old coleman lit, after it had been stored (and unused) for over 20 years. Heck, I didn't even have to change the mantels. And the gas I had was also 20 years old, too. Frankly, I was amazed, but the ladies were simply offended by the smell. I'll bet after another day, when the car battery I was using to power the 12 volt light and the convection blower finally went dead, they'd rethink their position on the coleman... or be sleeping at the relative's house whose power never seems to fail. But I'd still be here with my trusty coleman and what remained of my 20 year old gallon of "gas" (I guess that "gas" stuff is actually naptha, but memory is failing me).
  20. Gooserider

    Gooserider Mod Emeritus

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    I don't know what they made camp fuel out of 20 years ago, but my understanding is that these days its just really LOW octane gasoline, without any of the octane boosters or other chit that they put in pump gas. You can't / aren't supposed to with most Coleman products, but theres many of the other camp gas appliances that can be run on regular unleaded pump gas - the problem is the pump gas doesn't vaporise as well, and leaves lots of crud in the generator - It stops up the Coleman stuff, but many of the other brands have a design that allows you to clean them out as needed.

    Minor trick that I learned along time back if you are transporting a Coleman type lantern in between uses, is that your mantles will last better if you carry the lantern upside down. As we all know, once the mantles have been burned in, they are super fragile and will disintegrate if you so much as give them a dirty look... If you carry the lantern right side up, the mantles are hanging by the few threads that tie them on, and it doesn't take much bouncing before the weight of the mantle will get it wiggling and that rapidly leads to the mantle breaking off at the neck. If you turn the lamp upside down, the weight of the mantles is sitting on the neck, which makes them less prone to wiggle around and break off. It sounds weird but it works - I used to carry a Coleman Peak lantern on my bike when camping, and found my mantles would last for 2-3 times as long once I started putting it upside down on the bike. The idea of putting a gas container upside down bothers people to, but if you think about it, the tank on a Coleman is a pressure vessel, so it really isn't going to matter how the tank is placed.

    Gooserider
  21. drizler

    drizler Minister of Fire

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    OK may be I was a tad hard on the contrified ladies around here. Still, I just find that when it comes to going into caveman mode that the ladies and many younger guys for that matter don't do very well. Its not panic but rather they just get annoyed with anything and everything and it feeds on itself till you get the classic cabin fever scenario. I guess to those of us who have had the pleasure of sleeping in a poncho under a bush in the rain just find it easier to MANAGE. I use the word manage because thats all it is. When I say manage its just that, coping with whatever till things get back to normal. You don't have to be comfortable or entertained just reasonably warm and dry. Those are the real requirements, after that its all gravy. Then of course there is my old favorite. If you are cold then for Christsakes put some clothes on!

    When it comes to the coleman lantern those things can be a real lifesaver. One lantern gives off all the light you could ever need and will pretty well heat a small to medium sized room. They don't even really use a lot of fuel either. It doesn't take much output to heat a room to above freezing while it takes a lot to get it truly warm and toasty. One of the neatest recollections of growing up was the smell of the Coleman lantern sitting on the bank fishing for bullheads. I always thought that those lanterns smell great.
  22. vgrund

    vgrund Feeling the Heat

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    Well, we finally lost power in NH again. I happened to be in the shower at the time. My shiny new generator started in 8 seconds and is running as I write this.

    :)
  23. BrotherBart

    BrotherBart Hearth.com LLC Mid-Atlantic Division Staff Member

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    Fantastic. No waiting around to find out if you got your moneys worth!

    How long was the outage?
  24. Highbeam

    Highbeam Minister of Fire

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    Hi goose, my Coleman lanterns are designed and labeled for use with unleaded gasoline or white gas. My coleman stove burns gasoline as well.

    I never thought to travel with them upside down though. I wish they would come up with a non breakable mantle.

  25. vgrund

    vgrund Feeling the Heat

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    Absolutely! The outage is ongoing. I'll report back when it is over.
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