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generator recommendation

Post in 'The Gear' started by rockreid, Jul 23, 2008.

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  1. rockreid

    rockreid Member

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    I am looking to buy a backup generator for this winter in case the power goes out during a storm. The past 2 years here in CT I have been lucky that downed trees have not taken out the power in my neighborhood in a blizzard. But the odds are it will happen at some point. I am looking at Coleman 5500 amp models or similar models. Is the Coleman brand any worse than similarly rated amp brands? What is the best generator for the 5500 amp range?

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  2. Kenny1

    Kenny1 Feeling the Heat

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    Not a direct answer to your question, so pardon me while I head off on a tangent ;-)

    A lot of people just go out and buy a generator to be prepared. However, I think that there are some other issues to consider.

    1 - how much power do you need? Will you be powering a well pump, air conditioning, furnace, big screen TV, refrigerator, or just a couple of CF lights? Do you need a 240V output as well as a 120V? Add up all the loads you want to power at the same time, and take into account the extra start up current needed by motors and compressors.

    2 - How are you going to connect to the loads? If you need to run hard wired appliances (furnace, well pump), you need to buy an approved transfer switch. Get it installed by a licensed pro, and inspected. Do not back feed thru a dryer outlet. Safety is very important. If you are only going to run smaller loads (fridge, pellet stove, etc), extension cords may be adequate.

    3 - What type of fuel will the generator use? Gas is fairly typical, but does not store well. How long do you expect to use the generator for? Do you have room to store enough gas? A smaller generator will use less fuel, but will provide less power.

    4 - Where will you run the generator? It has to be outside (do not run in an attached garage!). Do you have a bit of shelter for it (keep it out of the rain/snow)? Some generators do not like to be run in cold weather (mine states under 40F, carb icing can occur unless you provide a cold weather shelter). Also, they can be very noisy.

    For some, and inverter and a battery is the best emergency power setup. For others, a small gas generator is ideal. Whole home systems are also available. however, whichever route you go, be sure to plan for using the system!

    We have a Briggs and Stratton PRO4000, nice machine, well regulated outputs, but the thing weighs a ton! It has the Vanguard engine, which is very quiet and seems very reliable. Don't forget to stock up on extra filters for your machine. I have also heard good things about the Honda and Yamaha generators.

    Cheers

    Kenny
  3. begreen

    begreen Mooderator Staff Member

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    I'm using a Coleman 5Kw generator for just such purposes. It's a basic contractor model and does the job. Pros: cheap, easy to use, reliable. Cons: Carb tends to spill on full choke (only an issue when starting), chopped AC instead of pure sine wave - some electronics may balk, loud - poor muffling. My first choice after experiencing operation of a friend's unit would be a Honda of similar size due to ease of operation, clean AC and quiet running. But considering the random nature of outages, the Coleman has sufficed and is welcome when we have long outages (up to 7 days so far).
  4. Backroads

    Backroads Feeling the Heat

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    If you look around and size it properly for the application I don't think you can go wrong with ANY of the top reputable generator manufacturers. My only suggestion is to buy it local maybe somewhere that can service it also. Good Luck!
  5. Hogwildz

    Hogwildz Minister of Fire

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    I'm weighing a automatic back up genset.
    Something in the 18-20KW range.
    And auto transfer, testing etc.
    Gonna cost, but I want it.
  6. begreen

    begreen Mooderator Staff Member

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    Hog, what are you going to power with 18-20kw? The average house runs fine on less than 7kw, especially in the winter. And with the dual furnace stoves you'll be running, the only thing you'll need to be powering is the refer running overtime. :)
  7. Redox

    Redox Minister of Fire

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    BeG, how are you getting chopped AC out of a generator, unless it has an inverter? It might be just noisey, which is a problem with cheap generators.

    I agree with Kenny, you need to figure out what you want to run and how you are going to run it before you buy it. Also keep in mind that starting a motor will require more generator. Check the specs to see what it is capable of starting and oversize from there. Submersible well pumps, even though they are only 1/2 HP or so take a LOT of juice to start. Sump pumps are also notorious for hard starting.

    There are generators and then there are GENERATORS. The cheap ones are going to be toast after about 1000 hours, while the good ones will keep on going and may be worth rebuilding if you ever wear it out. The engine may say "Commercial" on it, but the generator is still a POS.

    We bought my parents a contractor grade generator from Grainger and they ran it for a lotta years before it finally blew a seal and hemmoraged all over the driveway. That was the last Techumseh engine I will ever buy. It was replaced with a Kohler genset with the Command V-twin and a 100 gal LP bottle and currently has several hundred hours on it with nothing but oil changes. I bought the same set for our house and hooked it up to NG and now our power never goes out! Actually, I put about 36 hours on it during the last big windstorm that came through here and ran everything, including a 2 ton heat pump and all the computers. I think the neighbors were jealous, but I took in their frozen food and was giving out ice.

    I managed to pick these up after the Y2K scare as the local Kohler distributor had them sitting around the warehouse and wanted to get rid of them. If I had to replace them, it would be with a real commercial unit (not the ones that HD sells) and have a Honda GX engine on it. I think Northern has some like this, but you are going to pay upwards of $2K for a good one. I think the Kohler lists for $3600 if memory serves. An automatic transfer switch adds about another $1200, but there are cheaper manual options if you only want to run part of the house. Spend the bucks on a good one and you will never be disappointed. Sorry; I'm a generator snob...

    Chris
  8. eba1225

    eba1225 Feeling the Heat

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    I have a 7500W, 10500W(Peak), Porter Cable, Gasoline for fuel, it can power the whole house except for the A/C. It is kept in the shed and when run pulled to the shed door. I have a long 75' 220v (4wire 6 gauge) extension cord that I plug into the generator and then into the house. The house side is breakered as well as the generator side.

    I have to roll out the wire everytime I need to use it but that is not too often, so I tolerate it.

    Erik
  9. velvetfoot

    velvetfoot Minister of Fire

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    I just had a thread for my recent generator experience:
    http://www.hearth.com/econtent/index.php/forums/viewthread/19946/
    I found a cheap to safely interlock a backfeed from SquareD. It installed easily.

    I would second knowing what your loads are.
    I tried powering my well pump (deep) from the 5000w/6000w peak generator I have and it would not do it (scary-don't want to blow anything expensive like that up.)
    It works just fine with the 7500w generator.

    I got a multimeter that clamps on wires to measure current.
    The pump drew 37 amps surge and 11.7 amps steady state.
    It's powered off a 30 amp breaker on the main panel.
  10. savageactor7

    savageactor7 Minister of Fire

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    We were looking at a HD 7k LP generator, it was completely auto turn on/off with it's own self contained shelter. I didn't really want a gas gen because of gas storage issues. But our LP gas company advised us to get the smallest gen that would serve our house needs and not be talked into a 12k gen. Well HD had them for 3k installed and it was to be our next major home improvement...but our HD closed and forgot about it until I saw this thread. Guess I go price one at Lowes unless I hear other advice here.
  11. rockreid

    rockreid Member

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    thanks... I am on well water so I guess I better go for a bigger unit. I have been wanting to install a auto-switching 12-15kw standbuy unit (LP) but installing the propane tanks and everything electrically adds up to around $14k. My hope was that a small generator would be good enough in the meantime to get me through a winter or two, but it looks like my electric loads may be too much. I may just go ahead and bite the bullet and go out on a limb for the full-on standbuy unit...which brands are best? I know of Kohler, Generac, and Guardian. What is the best brand and what brand should I avoid?
  12. carbon neutral

    carbon neutral Feeling the Heat

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    I bought a cheap generator because we do not lose power very often so I don't anticipate much need for it. In six years I have only used it once so for the use factor cheap is good. The noise level did bother me so I put on a car muffler which helps a lot. The generator has a 3/4" NPT fitting for its exhaust so I adapedet 3/4" black iron pipe to a flexible exhaust pipe then connected that to the muffler. I welded the mufler to the generators frame so it all fits together nicely. Total cost to do this was maybe $30.
  13. velvetfoot

    velvetfoot Minister of Fire

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    I still think you should measure the loads. My well pump is 450' deep.
  14. Gator eye

    Gator eye Member

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    I kept it simple with my back up gen.

    I just got a 3000 watt honda inverter that is small enough that I use for camping also. When I loose power about the only thing I run is the blower fan on the wood stove and if need be I power up the fridge or freezers every now and again to keep them cold.

    I disconnect the main breaker that runs the blower fan and have a plug made up that goes from the gen. to a wall socket thats on the same run with the blower fan.
  15. joemat

    joemat New Member

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    If quiet operation is important, look at Honda. You will pay a premium, but it is a quality product. I think they are running promotions on their units now.

    I have also been tempted to to a "whole-house" auto-transfer system. I like the Kohler systems as I need broad coverage.
  16. savageactor7

    savageactor7 Minister of Fire

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    Rocky we're also on a well and have to pump water. Now if you include the refer/freezer throw in a few extra circuits for TV or a computer a 6-7k generator will meet all those demands and have power in reserve. You just have to be careful with heating esp hair dryers. And be mindful that it's an emergency and you're generating the power...so easy on those switches. I had 3 different pros tell me this system would work... 2 electricians and the gas company rep btw we have one of those large gas storage tanks.
  17. aussieblake

    aussieblake New Member

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    I am a licensed electrical contractor and do electrical design for a engineering firm (just letting you know my background). The other day while talking to a friend (also an electrician), he told me about an add on kit he installed on his panel board which is nothing more than a mechanical interlock between the main breaker and the breaker used to connect the generator. A plate goes over the handle of the main breaker and while in the on (closed) position the generator breaker is blocked from being closed (turned on), eliminating the chance of back feeding to the utility and the chance of having both sources of electricity fault in the panel board. Personally I have not seen the set up, and obviously it would be brand specific (maybe model specific). and the panel board would need a main breaker (presumably a seperately mounted main, which means the main is not mounted directly to the bus bars with the branch breakers). I know lots of older houses do not have a main breaker so this may not be for everyone. But if a transfer switch is installed they can cost quite a bit.

    I know GE makes a generator panel that serves its purpose, just not something I would want to use and the price is probably around $100. It is defintitely designed for the residential market.

    Lots of the posts above are right on the money, you must know all of the loads that require generator back up before sizing one (remember motor loads have high end rush). My house is on well (water is a necessity) I have a propane furnace (not much load at all), central A/C, electric cooking, propane water heater, two refrigerators and one deep freeze. More than likely if you have electric heat or water heater you are not going to be able to operate it on a generator without paying quite a bit of money for larger generator. I have a Coleman 6250 running watts and 8500 peak watts bought from HD (it has the Honda engine which is great) when the generator is needed we exercise load management, use the well only when the fridges and freezer are not on we try to run them only at night while everyone is asleep. We can not run our Central A/C, but ceiling fans and lights are no problem. We can watch TV (just not the big screen, to protect it from the power fluctuations of a generator). Our cooking stove is electric, so cooking during an outage is done on a hot plate, microwave, and toaster oven (but with the new T6 this may change in the winter time). I have lost power for 5 days (thankfully it was in May), but the houses to the east and south of me lost power for seven days this past winter, needless to say I am ready (other than the $4 a gallon gas to run the generator).

    I sure hope this makes sense.

    aussieblake

    aussieblake
  18. velvetfoot

    velvetfoot Minister of Fire

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    An interlock by SquareD is what I installed. It was $60.
  19. glacialhills

    glacialhills Member

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    I don't know about the rest of you, But we usually lose power due to big wind storm event in the summer or else a winter ice/snow storm. Either way unless you have your gas already stored at home, you are SOL and wont be able to get gas for a while if at all with all the trees down blocking the road and snow drifts. And then who's to say the gas station will have power or gas? I don't know anyone that has enough gas on hand to run a generator for more than a couple hours in an emergency. I think the only really reliable way to run a Generator in an emergency is from your large 500gal propane tank or as I was reading on another thread.. A wood gassification modified engine.
  20. Highbeam

    Highbeam Minister of Fire

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    Hi Glacial,

    We have lots of power outages and the urban towns either have power due to their underground lines or they get it back much sooner than the rural folks. The gas stations will have gas in all but the big emergencies and widespread disasters. When setting up your system you need to decide whether you are preparing for total isolation for a day, month, year, or what. The normal guy will prepare for the normal outage and that would be better than most folks who are not prepared for anything.

    In the last few decades our local power outages have never lasted longer than two weeks and when they did last that long you knew it and could prepare for it both before and after the storm by stocking up on fuel and essentials.

    When you really need gasoline for your genset you can siphon off of your trucks, lawnmower, etc. and have quite a bit. A typical standby genset can run for at least 10 hours on 5 gallons. There is a point during an extended outage when you need to turn the thing off to conserve fuel. You will decide what is truly important, for example, I would rather let the steaks thaw in the freezer and drink warm beer than not have enough fuel to run the genset to bring up well water to fill the toilets. Lots of BBQs going on when the power is out for a week around my area.

    If you are truly trying to prepare for a long term disaster then you are the extreme minority and you need to be looking at off-grid setups with batteries and solar power, food stashes, guns and ammo, etc. The rest of the folks are just trying to stay comfortable and to prevent expensive damages to their property. Wood heat is a major energy independence strategy.
  21. Redox

    Redox Minister of Fire

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    Velvetfoot, that link in the original thread is dead. Do you have another one?

    Chris
  22. IowaBrian

    IowaBrian New Member

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    I agree with Highbeam, a generator with a 5 gal jug of fuel will get you up and running, if the town is dark and no way to get fuel for days and drifts to the top of house then you need something besides what will get most people by. As for running loads with high start up need you can use a hard start cap (soft start?) it will take care of the high power needed to get the motor going then the generator can keep it running just fine. Now a small generrator still won't power your AC but if you bought a small generator you are not looking to power that. During the floods here in Iowa Lights, radio and hot plate get things back to some what normal. Everyone was cooking on the gas grills but it does rain and in the morning going outside to fry a egg gets old. It has been over a month sincethe floods and some people are still using a small generator for power, you just learn what is needed and keep it simple. Just my .02
  23. carbon neutral

    carbon neutral Feeling the Heat

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    My small generator 5.5KW will not power my CAC, but I can power a window a/c. I really only like A/C in the bedroom so that is fine. Again like highbeam said this is emergency power so some sacrifice will need to be made or a lot of money will need to be spent which is not practical for the majority of us.
  24. begreen

    begreen Mooderator Staff Member

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    Exactly. When one is on a generator one can manage power. There is no need to run everything at once. Let the pump build up full pressure in the storage tank. Then turn off the pump and turn on the furnace or refrig. etc. We went for 7 days on a managed 4.8kw generator power and did fine. No food lost. And that included a long extension cord to my neighbor's freezer. Ran it 2 hrs in the morning and 3 hrs at night.
  25. velvetfoot

    velvetfoot Minister of Fire

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    I would love to get by on that 5kw generator, and I'm tempted to try it with the new setup which might have less impedence (if that's the right word), but I'm paranoid about blowing out that well pump with the 37 amps surge. If my math is right, 37 amps * 240 volts = 8880 watts.
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