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generator advice

Post in 'DIY and General non-hearth advice' started by saichele, Aug 27, 2007.

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  1. saichele

    saichele Minister of Fire

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    The line of storms that came through knocked us off the grid for 48 hrs this weekend, third prolonged failure this year. I was able to borrow a generator to keep things chilled, now I'm looking at a backup generator.

    Does anyone have any opinions of the relative merits of Gas vs. NG vs. Diesel? I'm hoping to put relatively few hrs/yr on it, but need something in the 6-8000 watt range. I have the NG plumbed to the desired location, so all are options. I know there are a couple vendors with dual fuel units, anyone have experience with those?

    Thanks
    Steve

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  2. babalu87

    babalu87 New Member

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    If it is within your budget go diesel, they burn less fuel and run almost forever if you keep up with oil changes and fuel filters.
    The only thing to think about is the fuel issue, where would you store it? We have an oil burner for hot water so I would run mine off that tank.

    Second choice would be one that runs on NG. Think of it this way, when you need a Genset to run what are the chances that you are going to have enough gas around to keep it running? Siphoning out of your car/truck may be a real possibility. I dont know much about the duel fuel units but since you are plumbed for NG a unit that runs on NG only would be a good choice.

    All that said, I have a 6500 watt with a gas engine :)
    It has a saddle tank.
  3. saichele

    saichele Minister of Fire

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    I have a fair amount of equipment around (tractor, bobcat, pickup, 4 cars), so short of the apocalypse I have enough gas to keep a 10hp motor running for a few days. I was mainly looking into efficiency, maintenance, reliability, that sort of thing.

    Steve
  4. babalu87

    babalu87 New Member

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    Diesel it is then.
    If one was within the budget when we bought ours that is what I would have gone with, in hindsight I should have anyway but I am happy with ours now that I tinkered with the fuel adjustments.
    Seems those little gas motors dont like that ethanol blend fuel.
  5. Mike Wilson

    Mike Wilson New Member

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    FWIW, I use a Generac 6500... 6500 constant draw and 8000 surge. Its a commercial model that is ported to run on gas OR propane, as needed. I keep 30 gallons of treated fuel at the house, plus 10 in the Generac's tank. Basically, that will serve me for 2-3 days, depending on use. After that, I can connect to the swimming pool heater tank, which should last until God shows up. After that, I have a brother with a 45' cigarette boat and about 600 gallons of premium gas in the tanks, and he's going to be hit with my siphon!

    -- Mike
  6. BrotherBart

    BrotherBart Hearth.com LLC Mid-Atlantic Division Staff Member

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    For data center backup and 911 center generators we always used NG where possible. Diesel if not. The problem with gas and diesel backup generators is the fact that gas and diesel, especially the stuff formulated now, starts going south the minute it comes out of the refinery. There are addtives to try to stabilize them but heat and moisture are killers for both fuels. The stuff is out of spec in just a few weeks at most.

    With NG that genset can sit there for ten years and when needed clean ready to go fuel is waiting for it in the NG line.

    I run gas generators here for backup but run them dry after every use.
  7. Highbeam

    Highbeam Minister of Fire

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    I have a barrel of diesel at home for my tractor but a gasoline generator because a diesel genset costs a LOT. Try pricing out that 8000 watt diesel genset and you will see what I mean. If you are willing to depend on NG service to run the genserator then I am not so sure that I would prefer a diesel anyways. NG/LPG generators are almost as cheap as gasoline but run cleaner and more dependably because of the complete combustion and the shelf life of the fuel. The tradeoff when going to a NG/LPG genset is the loss of portability.

    Efficiency doesn't really matter since you don't use it much and with a large fuel source such as a NG pipeline, there is no supply shortage. Do you mean cheap to run or you want it efficient so that a limited fuel supply is sufficient to keep your ice cubes solid?

    Maintenance is nearly the same on all of them. The worst thing you can do is to let it set. Generators die from lack of use.

    Reliability is another vague question. Reliability of the fuel source puts NG/LPG above diesel since the diesel fuel can go sour. Diesel gensets are very expensive because of the high quality parts and assembly leading to typically better mechanical reliability. Though this is not necessarily the case with a quality NG/LPG genset made by a company like onan/cummins.

    For a permanent installation of a backup genset I will recommend NG/LPG for several reasons including cost, ease of use, and fuel supply.
  8. Hogwildz

    Hogwildz Minister of Fire

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    I am also looking into a backup generator in the future.
    We don't have NG available, although the pipeline runs under our road.
    I did some research about the diesel & propane generators. I don't have the figures anymore, but if you do a comparison of how much of each fuel is used, I found that Propane was the way to go for me. I have been looking at an automatic 20KW generator, prolly about $6,000.00 after installation. But will handle almost the entire house, and kicks on & off automatically. Also self tests once a week I believe. Of course, its down lower on the list of things to do right now.
  9. keyman512us

    keyman512us Member

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    One question you skipped over though was $$$ range. What are you wanting to spend "to keep the lights on". Also are you out in the country or fairly urban???

    If you live out in the country (and have a well) 6500 watts is a good 'baseline' to start at. If you live in the city? You might be able to get by with 3000 watts. If you live in the city and most of your house is NG (heat, stove, HW etc) you could go buy a little 1500watt whisper quiet Honda and let it run all night.

    It all depends on your situation.

    A 6500 watt OHV engined generator is short money compared to a hard piped, fixed in place GENSET. Once its bolted down it becomes a 'GENSET' big difference in price...and what it takes to hook it up...as well as maintain it.

    While everybody "sings the praises" of NG fired gensets...take a close look where you live. If your neighborhood is fed from a high pressure gas transmission line with the regulator assembly sitting right next to a light pole that feeds the whole town and it happens to be the busiest intersection in town...(you know where this is going)... How upset would you be if the lights were off and had no NG???

    Secondly when it comes to NG fired gensets the $$$ figure for maintenance comesd into play. A NG fired engine takes more of a 'beating' than a diesel one.

    If you wanted to go the genset route I would suggest diesel vs NG or even propane.

    NG is not 100% reliable. Legally required stanby systems (such as hospitals or other critical care facilities) cannot be solely on NG as a fuel.

    If you are fairly 'handy' and well versed (burning wood kinda qualifies you for that) I would size up how big of an electrical load you have and go with a portable generator. Have a Gentran style switch installed (6 or 12 circuit) model and pick the circuits in the house you would want "in case of a power failure". One kitchen circuit is always adviseable..(fridge and microwave...at least you can make some hot choclate/coffee).

    If you have a garage have the electrician look at putting a "remote generator tie-in" closest to the best suited door so you can roll the generator outside and plug it in as close as possible.

    One thing I definately want to mention as a word of caution:

    I know there are probably some right here on the forum that have made a "double ended cord" to get by cheap and nice and easy...but it is very dangerous to do this. All it takes is forgetting one time to turn off the main and you could in-advertantly kill the people trying to put the lights back on for you....Never use a double ended cord.

    I installed a few "generator hook-ups" over the years...the Y2K scare was very good for business (to bad I was an apprentice at the time)....

    As is always said...a few more detrails and pictures would go a long way to helping you to decide the best option.
  10. keyman512us

    keyman512us Member

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    One good thing about having a portable generator is "the buddy system". Luckily for you, you had a friend that had a generator might be a good idea to get a similiar portable one and thank your friend by offering the use of yours should theirs fail. Unless it's a major storm the likelyhood of a friend across town not having power either is less likely than neighborhood outages.

    Personally, I own a welder/genset with a 6500 watt section and also have a 3000 watt portable gas job.

    If you do go the "fixed in place" route..I would shy away from buying from "the big box stores".

    I'm not going into any detail on that...I don't want their lawyers 'knocking at my door tommorow'... ;)
  11. saichele

    saichele Minister of Fire

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    I've been doing a little comparison shopping, and here's where I'm at -

    Price is an issue, and frankly I don't think this is a sufficiently big concern that I'll spring the 4-6K it would take to have a permanent 'GENSET.' Also has the appeal of making it a portable, long-term asset rather than a 'never see it in resale' home improvement. This makes the NG hookup less appealing because for the few hrs a year I'd run it, I probably wouldn't even recover the cost of the shelter and install, let alone the extra cost of getting a dual fuel unit (they seem to start in the low $2K range for 6000 watt).

    For the purposes of the past weekend, I did exactly what keyman said not to - cut the main, and backfeed through the garage (used the friend's double ended cable). Worked OK for an emergency, but not a long-term fix. My intent is to do a manual toggle switch, but that's going to require a real electrician since it'll require pulling the meter.

    What I'm finding is that there are a fair number of 30A 220, 6 or 7 kW units available across the $1K to $2K range, going from a Coleman Black Max (Sams Club, $928 + tax) to a Honda EB 5000 (ok, only 5kW).

    So I'm looking at gas, electric start, about 6kW, and starting to refine the search. Sound becomes a concern (the Coleman loner was LOUD), along potentially with 'cleanliness' of the power. Most report a decibel rating, but as to the cleanliness - what sorts of things are sensitiv and what aren't? Does running the computer off a UPS address any fluctuations in the current? Honda makes some inverter generators, but those are considerably more pricey - in the $3K+ range.

    Thanks
    Steve
  12. keyman512us

    keyman512us Member

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    As to the 'cleanliness' issue... I would say "not all are created equal". In my case...I wouldn't try to sit on-line(on the computer) powered by the welder/genset. The 3000 watt portable maybe. If your computer has a good ups system your computer is pretty safe as most decent UPS system "condition" the power supplied to them. Worst comes to worse a week down the road your UPS might start acting up.

    Clean power wise (I'm not plugging for Honda BUT) the Honda EB series "got it right" in the generator market.

    Ratings wise, there are two numbers you need to look at: Rated watts and Surge watts. A 5000 watt rated generator often will be 'surge capable' up to say 6500 watts for short bursts. Very handy if you have to run a well pump. The "cheaper" units (coleman, generac etc) often aren't "wound too tightly". They do the job but usually aren't too "overbuilt". The Honda Line however would get my "bulletproof" rating.

    Having said that you can still find the middle of the road. My portable is a DAPC (Devilbis Air Products Company-known to painters) 120 volt 3000 watt OHV engined manual start. I bought it at HD (prior to the whole Y2K scare) for like $350 bucks. At the time it was the best suited for what I wanted/needed. The biggest requirement was whatever model I bought..it had to be an OHV engine...lawn mower style engines and generators just don't work to well IMHO. I figured it would be nice to have and would come in handy around the jobsites for running skilsaws etc... but to push an air compressor?? Unless it's the pancake one it doesn't do the trick. I keep the generator in my tool trailer with the pancake compressor and it pays for itself.

    With OHV...reliability is addressed as well as some sound issues. An OHV engine doesn't sound like your atypical lawnmower... kind of important if you have neighbors and are going to be running it at night.

    I would recomend you "take it to the next step"...look in the yellow pages for a Honda dealer that carries the generator line made by Honda. Go to the showroom and start eye-ing what one you would want. If for no other reason to check out their really quiet models. A buddy of mine has one of their suitcase style ones (think its' rated at 900 watts/1200 surge) that he got for the RV when he goes to Nascar races. I borrowed it one weekend to go to the cabin in Vermont... definatley a nice little unit! Quiet! ;)

    You don't necessarily have to buy from the dealer. Educate yourself in the showroom. Personally, I would start looking on Ebay, Craigslist, Want-Ad/Thrifty Nickel type places and look for the deals.

    Ideally... Sounds crazy but you could go with two generators: Start with the little whisper quiet Honda 1000 watt job and then find a nice 6500 watt jobber to add to your reliability factor.

    The whisper quiet Honda will have you "covered" for the average neighborhood outage...if it's a long duration outage...repeating what you did for this storm (borrowing your buddies' to keep the freezer cold) would be in order. The smaller generator has it's limitations...but it's advantages...the smaller sized can run 24/7 on very little fuel usage and is whisper quiet. The smaller tank makes it easier to do what BB does (run it dry) A 5-gallon gas (you probably have for the lawn mower anyway) would ensure a decent quality fuel is available.
    The smaller generator would best be suited to run your computer or the microwave...just gotta be a little creative. Running a sole 6500watt generator for extended periods??? A waste IMHO

    I would get the two...run the little one constantly in an outage...and use "the big daddy" every 8 hours or so...Just my $.02
  13. keyman512us

    keyman512us Member

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    Perhaps the best way to look at being "covered in an outage" is to think of this topic/concept as "Standby Power" whether it's a generator or "alternatives"...

    A buddy of mine (fellow electrician and pellet stove owner) wanted to be covered in an outage. Since he had ready access to deep cycle batteries he bought a good sized 12V inverter and kept a few deep cycle batteries in the basement..hey piece of mind right???

    I called him up one night this past June and was going to have a couple burgers off the grill with him...He had lost power when a storm blew through town. Where he lives the utility system is antiquated at best... most of the city (like my neighborhood) is fed from the old 4160 (volt) distribution system...very prone to outages because it is slowly being phased out ($$$ go towards replacement vs. maint)..

    Anyway...He tells me over the phone "No big deal...I'll just plug in the inverter"...When I get there the inverter is sitting on top of the trashbags in the garbage can...SMOKED! "What happened??" I aksed to which he replied with a smirk "I hooked it up reverse polarity and it went popcorn"...

    I wanted to laugh but held back...because I know that sometimes in an outage (being very frustrated is the norm) things happen.

    Whether it is a storm or a similiar event...when the lights go out life can be frustrating. Not to ake away from what you experinced in the storm...but a personal reflection:

    A month before (Friday May 5th...was suppose to drive up to Bangor the next day and see the loggers expo/get to meet Eric) there was a fire downtown and all hell broke loose.

    They had to cut power to the neighborhood...my portable generator wouldn't start...and I didn't want to aggravate the neighbors by firing up the welder/genset at 11PM...so with the lights out and heavy acrid smoke blowing through the air I was out back draining and re-filling the generator with good gas... when it was all said and done "Murphys' Law Applied"...

    Just as the generator fired up...the lights came back on...GRRRRRRRRRR! ;)

    Was frustrating but...Not as frustrating as the fire ruined my night..and weekend. The hooligans of the neighborhood took it as an oportunity to create mischief... they broke a few windows and even looted the cell phone store on Main St...Nice huh???

    Good thing for them they stayed away from my homestead... I had my "thump stick" (two foot piece of RHW 500kcmil copper wire) at my side. One crack upside the head...they're all done. Lights are off, fire in the neighborhood to close to home and looting has been documented... Sounds like a state of emergency to me...and in a state of Emergency...Anything goes! ;)

    Yup...Outages make memories...some good some bad.
    To the average resident in the city here it was an opportunity to see our $1.2million dollar "Tower-1" do it's job...not the most memorable fire in our city...but to those in the neighborhood though it was, and put a dent on the weekend... at any rate things got back to normal around 4AM.

    Attached Files:

  14. nshif

    nshif New Member

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    Steve
    Ive got a Generac 7.5KW elec.start gas. Ive been useing it for 3 years almost daily for the 1st year while waing for power lines to be installed. I live in a remote area of the Sierras where power outages are rather common from snow, trees falling accross lines, forest fires etc. So it gets alot of use sometimes for days at a time. It has never failed me and all Ive done to it is change the oil and filters and a tune up. If I had it to do over it would be propane so I could connect to my 250# propane tank so I wouldnt have to refill the gas in a sonw storm.
  15. saichele

    saichele Minister of Fire

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    OK, what sort of options are out there for 'temporary' gas connections? I have black pipe to the garage, I suppose I could make a short run and punch through the wall, but I don't get a warm fuzzy feeling from the flexible stainless stuff generally used for kitchen ranges and the like. Can you get rubber NG hose?

    Thanks
    Steve
  16. thephotohound

    thephotohound New Member

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    For what it's worth, I did my calculations and figured I needed a 5K-6K Watt portable to run the furnace (HW), well pump, fridge, some lights, etc... I searched and searched, finding 5K watt portable units used for around $300-$400. The problem was that they were all beat up; most likely used by tradesmen. As luck would have it, I was at Lowe's one day, and saw a sidewalk sale with 2 generators. One of them was a Troy-Bilt 8K Watt portable (13.5K watt surge). Original price: $1300. Today: $500. I asked what was wrong with it, the salesman told me "nothing". Not believing him, I asked if the warranty would still apply. He said it would. I bought it, got it home, and discovered none of the plugs worked. I brought it to my local Troy-Bilt repair facility, and had the main board replaced free of charge under the factory warranty. Now I have a perfectly functional 8K Watt portable unit for $500.

    As for the NG/Propane/Diesel debate, propane/NG conversion kits are abundant: http://www.propane-generators.com/. Personally, I'd figure out what you need for wattage and shop around for a deal on a gas unit. Then if you're worried about fuel, get the conversion kit. Theat gives you options. Options are always good.

    Just my .02.
  17. Highbeam

    Highbeam Minister of Fire

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    This is a great thread. At my last house I did not want to use a "suicide-cord" (the double male ended cord) so I just ran several extension cords through the house to power things like the fridge and portable heaters. That's fine for smaller 110 volt loads that aren't too much for the gauge and length of cord.

    In my new house I had to replace the electrical panel and put down a few extra bucks for a generator panel. It has a UL listed interlock that allows a single 220 volt "generator" breaker to be turned on ONLY when the main breaker is turned off. The generator breaker will be fed by a male ended plug. This allows me to backfeed my entire house legally with the genset. It is effectively a suicide cord but done properly. There are UL kits sold to modify your electrical panel to offer this function but I like the premade version with all of the stickers saying it is OK. I only need to run the line for the generator now to make it complete. Power needs are managed by turning off breakers at the panel to prevent overloading the generator should the water heater kick on while the electric range is running.

    I've always wondered just how reliable the NG grid is. It would sure be a bugger to expect little granny to go around and relight all of her pilot lights. A NG/LPG powered engine lives a much easier life than a gas or even a diesel engine. Lower compression, gaseous fuel doesn't dilute the lube oil, very clean burning indeed, easy to start with no choke, no cold start issues, fuel quality is always good.

    The thing about most of the small and very quiet generators is that they don't often offer 220 volt output. Not that you need 220 volt output very often but you do need both phases of the 110 power. Your home's electrical load is divided between the two phases and a 110 only generator could only power one phase at a time. For example, if you made a suicide cord and backfed a 110 volt wall outlet then only half of your home's circuits would work. The gentrans subpanels might get around this issue.

    I especially like the idea of a small genset and a large one. I have run my 6850 with the 11HP OHV engine during long outages and it sucks fuel fast. 1/2 gallon per hour at light loads. The little hondas are very very quiet and the standard suitcase model is the EU2000i a 2000 watt generator for 900$ or so. There are propane conversions for this genset too.
  18. babalu87

    babalu87 New Member

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    My friend is an electrician and he helped me wire the upstairs of our house when I finished it...... and signed off on the work :)

    He also wired me a generator breaker on the main panel and then tied that in to a BIG ASSED extension cord with the three prong plug so I can plug in to the generator.
    Here is how it goes when the power is out

    A: Get Maglite from junk drawer
    B: Turn off MAIN power on the box AND all other breakers
    B: Turn off MAIN power
    C: Start generator
    D: Plug in generator
    E: Cycle on all circuits
    F: Grab a beer and relax

    I can run the whole house on ours but I have to be careful if the boiler cycles while the well pump is running AND the freezer needs juice. I just turn the boiler on when we need it. It is a 5000 with a 6500 surge but I try to keep it from surging.
    Our genset it a Cabelas model and has served us fine for 7 years.

    I concur this is a good thread
  19. keyman512us

    keyman512us Member

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    Good Reference for proper connection products:
    http://www.gen-tran.com/

    Load centers ready to go:
    http://www.gen-tran.com/eshop/10Browse.asp?Category=GTV

    Their "original" now refered to "vintage" product line that made them famous and IMHO they should stay focused on...This option is about as user friendly to install (although I'm not advocating it)...and can even be found at the box stores... :
    http://www.gen-tran.com/eshop/10Browse.asp?Category=VPTS

    A little tricky but worthwhile also...:
    http://www.gen-tran.com/eshop/10Browse.asp?Category=MTSPC

    Put in the 'vintage' or load center models and put this outside the garage door and you are all set:
    http://www.gen-tran.com/eshop/10Browse.asp?Category=PIB
  20. struggle

    struggle Minister of Fire

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    HEre is what I have for a set up

    Troy Built 5550 continous watt with 8550 surge watts.

    I set mine up with a dummy plug in meter base. In the event of a power outage I can roll the gen out unplug the meter and install the properly wired dummy meter inplace. The dummy meter base allows no feedback connection to the grid it seperates the two. THis set up allows me to power the entire house this way.

    Does it work you bet. We had a power outage for a couple of hours once so it was go time. Out I went pulled meter and then put the dummy in place (shut off main breaker to feed in house box and shut off high draw hot water heater breaker). Started the generator up and then flipped the main breaker on and this generator powered two fridges and all the ceiling fans and anything else we turned on. It was really neat to be the only house in the neighborhood with lights on. People where driving by slowing down like how did they do that.

    Once the power came back on line I hust the main breaker off and remover said dummy meter and reinstall the normal one and back to the grid we went.

    This generator is not super quiet but it is seen as an emergency set up and noise is not an issue when it comes to having power.

    My neighbors accussed me of not being able to behave as I had lights and they did not. Out of pocket cost for this set up was $750.

    If one was concerned about noise at night you could just shut it down over night and keep fridge doors closed and then fire it back up in the morning. THis is what my parents did two years ago in florida when they where out of power for over two weeks and food always kept cold and no body complained about the generators running.

    Also so I checked with a Fluke meter in several outlets throughout the house and had 125 volts at every outlet.
  21. saichele

    saichele Minister of Fire

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    Th noise issue is an interesting one. I really don't anticipate running the big generator over night while I'm sleeping - what do I care if it's dark, and as you say, the food will stay cold in a fridge of freezer for quite a while if the door stays closed.

    That said, we ran it till about 10:30 Sat night, then started around 8 on Sunday morning. About 10 the local constabulary pulls in and asks what's going on in the garage. I'd just been in the house eating breakfast, so I said "nothing. "

    "So what's all the noise then?"

    "The generator."

    "Why are you runnng a generator?"

    "Because the power's been out since friday afternoon. "

    "Oh. You don't have electricity?"

    "Just the generator. Wish the power company would get their act together, it costs about $2/hr to run this thing. But with a 3 yr old and a 10 day old infant in the house, my wife really wants to have some electricity."

    "Ok. Well as soon as the power comes back on be sure you turn the generator off."

    "Will do. have a good day officer."

    Apparently one of the neighbors who did have electricity was more inclined to whine to the cops than to ask. But I'm trying to devise a reasonable enclosure, like a little T1-11 shed lined with the foam egg cartons or something, that would make it a little less obtrusive.

    Steve
  22. babalu87

    babalu87 New Member

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    Dick Foraneighbor?
    I have one of them too.
  23. saichele

    saichele Minister of Fire

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    The funny thing is I talk to most all of them over the fence and they're all friendly and supportive (we bought a fairly neglected house and have been cleaning it up, including clear cutting a bunch of maple and poplar in what was previously the yard). We have a fair amount of sidewalk traffic, and I can;t hardly do much of anything without someone stopping to say how much they like what we're doing with the house. Our house happens to be the old farmhouse that sold off to become subdivisions 50 yrs ago. So most everyone else has a modern house on 1/4 acre, I have an old house on 1.5 in town.

    The only one I don;t know is the one who throws loud parties behind the privacy fence once a month. Oh, he also has a beagle that yodles every night about 10:00. Maybe my power outage interfered with his hangover. But if the lot's cut so you have 6 neighbors, 1 bad one is about par.

    Steve
  24. babalu87

    babalu87 New Member

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    middleborough, ma.
    I have TWO neighbors
    Our house is on 6+ acres (we all abut cranberry bogs)
    Good neighbor is on 10+ acres
    Dick Foraneighbor is on 6+ acres

    I'm batting .500
  25. keyman512us

    keyman512us Member

    Joined:
    Feb 27, 2007
    Messages:
    804
    Loc:
    North Worc. CTY MA
    I think everyone has them.

    Wanna make it interesting??? Put in a woodboiler(outdoors) and then deal with the fire dept.

    Fire Dept "We got a complaint of nuisance smoke...Is your boiler even running right now???"

    Me: "Yup it's running full bore right now can't you tell??? (as we are staring at no visable smoke from the top)" neighbor down the block stove was smoky so she called on me.

    Needless to say...they wanted to use their shiny axes...on her back door.
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