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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. JustWood

    JustWood Minister of Fire

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    That must be a popular name ! I have 2 guys in my neighborhood with that same exact name ! They just love my generator ( 300HP -6 cylinder Detroit diesel engine crankin' out 220,000 Watts of power) ,runs everything at my facility including house. Would post a pic but can't figure out how to resize.

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  2. Hbbyloggr

    Hbbyloggr New Member

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    It was a real find when in the pursuit of a decent generator to come upon a " removed from service " due to upgrades. A local town upgraded their town water standby generator and sold the old unit. I picked it up from the guy for $ 700.00. Bought 100 ft of 4-wire 00 shielded cable on Ebay for $ 400.00 ( retails for 12.51 / ft ). Bought a double throw 100 amp transfer switch for cheap money . I had to sacrifice the old out house for the new generator room and now the propane fueled 30kw keeps us up and running no matter what. We also installed an UPS for the computers. Being in the firewood business it is essential that we stay opened during power outages for our customers .

    In times of no power we offer customers free pick-up. We give them the firewood but charge firewood rates for a hot cup of coffee. We have never had any complaints about our "disaster relief" option.
  3. begreen

    begreen Mooderator Staff Member

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    We've been without power for as much as 8-9 days at a time in the past 10 years. It's a rural area with a lot of trees. Access is limited, including for gasoline or diesel.

    If the power goes out like it did last year, the main transmission lines coming off the dams were compromised. Bad news. That meant no gas pumps for days in some areas. You can't store gasoline for long periods of time, so many were caught gasless after they had used up their 1-2 day supply. The pumps in town finally came on in about 3 days, but a lot of folks were very cold until then.

    Propane (or NG) avoids this issue as long as the tank is not let to drop down to a low level. Diesel stores better than gasoline and if you already have a tank for a tractor then it might be an appropriate choice.
  4. GVA

    GVA Minister of Fire

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    You know, one would think that some entreprenuer type gas station owner would buy a portable generator and use it to run one gas pump and make some money, at least his generator would always have fuel :)
  5. nshif

    nshif New Member

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    We have a local gas station that has a generator to run his pumps but if you cant get there because of snow, even in a Jeep, it doesnt do you much good. Id rather rely on my 250 gal propane tank.
  6. Kenny1

    Kenny1 Feeling the Heat

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    I really enjoyed this thread.

    Lots of good advice. I have a B&S;PRO4000. Very quiet, and nice clean power (and well regulated!). Also, I like having an hour meter to keep track of when oil changes are required. I use a few extension cords to power essential items.

    As others have stated, there are a few things we considered:

    How often does the power go out for long periods where you live? Are you planning for the "storm of the centuary" or just looking to ride out "typical" conditions? To handle 1 - 2 weeks requires a much larger budget than to cover a 1 - 2 day outage.

    What is the load size? Do you want to run everything (including the big screen TV), or would a fridge and a couple of CF light bulbs be enough? Keep in mind the start up current draw of motors (e.g. well pump).

    How will you connect the generator to the load? This is very critical for your safety (and the safety of others). A proper transfer switch is required for powering hard wired appliances, and is very safe and convient. Extensions cords are fine for smaller loads, but more work to hook up.

    Will you have fuel for your generator? How much? How long can you store it for? Where will you store it?

    Whatever you do get, be sure to order some extra filters for it (if needed) in case you need to change them durning a power outage.
  7. jjbaer

    jjbaer New Member

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    Keyman is referring to a term called "islanding" whereby you fail to disconnect your home from the grid, fire up a gen set and "backfeed" power into the grid and kill a lineman working on what he thought was a 'dead" circuit.....
  8. saichele

    saichele Minister of Fire

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    I'm not disputing it's a bad idea, I'm just wondering how that actually works - unless you have a really massive backup. I figure my typical load is somewhere in the range of 4-5 kW, so I'll probably buy something that will surge to about 7500 to make sure I can start the freezer or whatever. But there aren't a lot of extra watts. If I'm 'islanding' as you call it, with the main still connected, won't I blow the breaker on the generator as I try to power the neighbor's stuff too?

    Again, it's not the right way to do it, but it seems like it wouldn;t even work with the main connected.

    Steve
  9. eba1225

    eba1225 Feeling the Heat

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    Yes, what you want to do is isolate yourself from the grid. I do that by pulling the main fuses in the panel, this allow me to power the whole panel and in turn the whole house (minus the A/C). I have a 7.5 KW (10KW surge) generator.
  10. BrotherBart

    BrotherBart Hearth.com LLC Mid-Atlantic Division Staff Member

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    Steve besides the fact that it has kicked the crap out of and killed a lot of lineman over the years, if any other reason is needed that would be that it is against the law in every locality in the whole country. Not code. Law.
  11. Hogwildz

    Hogwildz Minister of Fire

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    Funny thing,
    I stopped at a local police station yesterday to pick up a police report for a fire wreck I'm working on.
    The chief says "this whole side of the town is out. Then a guy pulls up with a trailer and a gas fired generator on it. Pulls out a double male end line, plugs one end into generator, the other into an exterior panel box outside the wall. Goes in, opens the breaker box door, and there is a metal shield he has to kill power to the main breaker, which then allows a metal shiled plate to slide over that way, then that in turns lets the aux. power breaker to be flipped into the on position. Basically the main has to go off, before the aux. breaker can be turned on, and the metal plate shield makes sure that happens. Simple but great idea.
  12. keyman512us

    keyman512us Member

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    Hog... They way they are making the panelboards (equiped with a generator transfer) now is just how you described it...simple but big $$$. I've bought/installed a few. You could basically "build it yourself" with a little know how... but unfortunately it wouldn't be a "listed" piece of equipment if modified.

    Unfortunately the manufacturers haven't made a "modification kit" yet. It's a PIA because the entire panelboard has to be changed. Given enough time...sooner or later they will.
  13. eba1225

    eba1225 Feeling the Heat

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    I did my hookup myself (just need to take you time and be safe). As was said before with paying a little attention to procedures it is quite simple and works like a charm.

    Here is my procedure for when power goes out and it looks like I will need to power the generator:
    1 - Pull mains to disconnect house from grid.
    2 - Run wire from generator to house plug and connect the two.
    (House plug is connected to a 50a breakered sub panel for the generator feed to the house and is connected directly to main panel power rails, as I use 240v from the generator)(Acts like a switch and circuit breaker)
    3 - Power up generator, allow to stabilize (~5 mins) (Generator is in the shed 50ft from the house)
    4 - Throw 50A subpanel breaker and the house is powered.

    As I said before it powers the whole house except for the A/C. All it took was being without heat, water and losing a 'frig and a chest freezer full of food to make this happen.

    Note: I do have a surge suppressor on every piece of electronics, as I have seen it recommended because generators tend to over-surge when something is initially turned on.



    Erik
  14. saichele

    saichele Minister of Fire

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    OK, so there is no legal way to have a backup generator without having a transfer switch between the main and the meter? Just trying to make sure I understand what I'm getting into.

    The feed from the meter to the main panel is almost completely obstructed by ductwork, and even if not, it is entirely encased inside metal conduit. Given the shortage of construction/contracting work in this part of the world, the electrical work will cost me more than the generator (everyone has a boat payment). Maybe I'm back to extension cords. But it will be quieter.

    Steve
  15. eba1225

    eba1225 Feeling the Heat

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    Steve,

    Don't know about the issue of it being unlawful as many people in the area have then. As for cost it was about $1500 including the generator.
  16. saichele

    saichele Minister of Fire

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    Right, your install I undrstand, and would all happen downstream of the main breaker. It's basically what I did during the recent emergency - open the breaker for the garage subpanel in the basment, go out hook the genratator to the welder plug in the garage, go inside, open the main, close the garage breaker, and start powering up the circuits I'm looking for. What I'm understanding Key and Howildz to say is that pretty much any install that relies on the homeowner opening the main breaker is illegal.

    So you'd need a switch that has two feeds - one from the srteet, one from the genrator connection, and closing either one of those is only possible by opening the other. Both then feed to the Main breaker and panel. I'm thinking that job could run as much as the generator in this part of the world.

    Steve
  17. eba1225

    eba1225 Feeling the Heat

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    You are probably right on that as you would need the electric company to cut power to you house, and then get a liscensed electrical person to do the install. That switch is called a "Break before Make".
  18. Highbeam

    Highbeam Minister of Fire

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    "Hog… They way they are making the panelboards (equiped with a generator transfer) now is just how you described it...simple but big $$$. I’ve bought/installed a few. "

    I have equipped my home with a panel as you describe hog. It has the little metal lockoout tab riveted to the panel and the UL sticker to allow it. You do NOT use a double male ended plug with this setup. The "generator" circuit terminates outside with a male receptacle so that your hosue becomes an appliance much like an RV plug.

    The upgrade cost of going from a regular panel to a generator trannsfer panel was very small, less than 100$, and the result is a legal connection to the generator for any appliance in my house. If I wanted hot water really bad I could devote all of my smallish generator's power to the water heater circuit. You use the regular breakers to manage power.

    As illegal as a regular double male ended cord setup is, many many people still do it. It's bad, it's wrong, whatever, people do it all the time. I don't do it but every one of my neighbors backfed his house through the dryer plug.
  19. keyman512us

    keyman512us Member

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    For all intents and purposes...The simplest way to answer your question would be "NO"...to have a "legal" installation you have to have the generator connected into the "premise wiring" (i.e. your houses electrical system) "By approved, listed means" Lot of legal mumbo-jumbo but that is what the code is for..."To establish basic safe and effective standards for electrical systems".

    For your particular setup...What is the size of your electrical service??? Is it 60,100,200 Amps etc??? If your service is 60 or 100 amps you may be able to put in a "Double pole Double throw switch" right next to the panelboard.
    Back before the whole Y2K scare HD used to sell a GE doublepole double throw switch (for something like $89.00).
    It all depends on how much room there is around your panelboard and how "full" it is.

    Just out of curiousity??? You mentioned it is "hard piped" from the meter socket to the panelboard??? "Do you still have fuses???"

    Steve??? Are you in Massachusetts???
  20. saichele

    saichele Minister of Fire

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    Nope, it's a 200amp service, runs from the meter to the panel inside 1.5in (probably) metal conduit. All the individual runs are just sheathed wire (no conduit except for some BX running to the old part of the house).

    I could come up with a couple empty slots in the box, but the issue is really that the action needs to happen between the meter and the main. I feel pretty good about working on circuits I can shut off, but am obviously reluctant to either attempt to pull the meter or (full on worse) screw with a hot 220 line. Took a hit from a well pump on the job a few years ago and my arm was twitching for a good long while.

    So the basic task list here looks like
    1) buy transfer switch of some sort
    2) pull meter
    3) break into conduit (or maybe run leads through existing main box across to switch)
    4) wire feed from meter to switch to panel
    5) run plug for generator from switch to outside
    6) replace meter

    I had a pretty simple panel replacement job quoted at our last house a couple years ago - 100 amp fuse panel to a 200amp breaker, no Al wire involved, same panel location with good access to the location, pretty much as simple as it gets. $1200 plus permit and parts (3 different IBEW guys, all within $100 of each other). Not many non-union, licensed electricians in this part of the world (Michigan). Ended up upgrading from an old electric dryer to a newer gas one to free up a 220 spot, then used that to run a 220 to the garage for a subpanel. it was worth $100 to me, but not $1500. Might have been worth 4 or 500, but those weren't options.

    So again I'm back to tryng to think outside the "box".

    Steve
  21. keyman512us

    keyman512us Member

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    Just wanted to "point out this one" and add a comment or two.

    What works for the above person... is not exactly an adviseable thing to do. I've "been out west" and "what goes" from locale to locale varies to say the least. Not doubting the abilities of anyone but a few things to keep in mind (Glad he brought it up for discussion):

    Again things vary from locale to locale. Perhaps his local utility provider is a co-op, regional, or municipal district type set-up. So they might not make a big deal about "playing with the meter".

    Here in "our neck of the woods" is a different story though. The Utility Company I have to deal with regularly, National Grid (Formerly know as Mass Electric)can be a royal PIA but they have their policies. They make a big deal about cutting seals, removing meters, etc.
    They "own" the meter and require a very formal notification anytime their meter is worked on in any way. They expect an electrician that finds missing or broken seals or anything that is "out of the ordinary" to notify them. They consider anytime their seals are broken that there is the potential "theft issue"... They use the term "Diversion"... Just something to keep in mind if they are thinking of "playing with the meter".

    Also removing the meter may sound "simple" but it is also very very dangerous. Even for trained professionals. Certain things are done to minimize the risks associated with "pulling the meter" and from time to time...things can go wrong.

    Unless you feel comfortable "playing with a bomb" i would recomend not "playing with your own meter" because you may end up with more than you bargained for.

    The jaws inside do loosen up, they do break and every so often horror stories happen. Keep in mind 99.9% of the time...the wires behind that meter are for all intents and purposes "Un-Fused". If something shorts out...usually the spark show doesn't stop until there is no metal left to short out. In rare cases a fuse on the primary side of the transformer (Anywhere from 2000-16000 volts) will blow out... but it is also possible to "blow out" the transformer itself. Anyone that has seen a utility company transformer "blow out" can tell you...it's not a pretty picture.

    So if you want to go so far as to start playing with the meter to hook up a generator...just keep in mind...it has risks associated with it.
  22. keyman512us

    keyman512us Member

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    I hear what you are saying. Given enough time...eventually manufacturers will make an approved "retro-fit kit" for the panelboards...but until then...

    Well just (try to)play it safe for now. Whatever you do to hook up the generator just take the time and don't get sidetracked... when the lights go out it can be stressfull. Life takes a step or two backwards, people get cranky...the thought of losing food in the fridge/freezer and therefore losing $$$ comes into play.. but all it takes is one mis-step to really compound the situation.

    "Having the lights on" is something we are all accustomed to...when they go out sometimes people don't think to clearly. Some people even "freak out"...

    Ever catch yourself shaking your head in a power outage??? The lights are out..so you go searching for a flashlight,. You can't remember where you left it? Aggh I think I left it in the other room...Now if I could just find it... What do you instictively do when you walk in to that room???

    ...You flip the light switch.

    (Honestly)...How many people out there have done that???

    You would be surprised...more people than you think!
  23. Hbbyloggr

    Hbbyloggr New Member

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    There are two more things to consider if you're considering using this " Back feed " method.
    One: If you fail to disconnect the main fuse ,the generator's power fed to the Utility Line goes into the transformer " backwards " and is stepped up to the main utility line voltage. ( Our road is 7200KVA ). Beware.
    Two: The wire size of the electric drier line becomes the transmission line to your house . Kind of small in my book. Too much of a load and the wire heats up and the possibility of fire becomes very real. You also want to make sure you " Bond" the generator to a good ground and each panel.
    100% failsafe On-Off-On manual Transfer switches are only a couple of hundred dollars and well worth the money to limit your liability.
  24. Mike Wilson

    Mike Wilson New Member

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    I had them wire one of these in about 10 years ago... wasn't expensive at all... the transfer switch cost 300 bucks, the electrician mounted and wired the whole thing for 100 bucks. Works like a charm, runs the well water, heat, one air handler, furnace, and some lighting. Perfect.

    -- Mike

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  25. keyman512us

    keyman512us Member

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    Yeah...That is a ten-circuit "vintage style" GenTran switch...See Pg. 2 of this thread Post #18...third link.
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