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Earthquake in Northern CA. Advice, propane portable generator
Old 08-27-2014, 11:11 PM   #1
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Earthquake in Northern CA. Advice, propane portable generator

Just had a 6.0 earthquake in Northern CA. Napa. Got me thinking, I need to be more prepared. Need a generator to keep refrigerator going. Few,
lights, and microwave. For a couple of days.

Heard propane is safer to store. And does not get "old" like gasoline,
Also, heard if you have a gasoline generator, you have to run it once a
month or it gets gummed up. Propane burns clean, so this is not an issue.

Anyone, have any experience. What's the best, portable propane generator? Thanks.
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Old 08-28-2014, 03:39 AM   #2
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My personal experience is with gasoline generator, but a friend has a business which needs reliable power. He has a 3-way set up. His primary fuel is natural gas, his back up is propane, but he can also use gasoline. I do not know if the three are interchangeable without some physical intervention. My guess is that something has to be done (in the old days, it was "jets" change in the carburetor for different fuels.) Now of days, what with the kinds of fuel injection available, it may be that the engine doesn't even know the difference.

My input, however, is a more practical one. The most important part of any system is the line isolator (not sure this is the actual name for it.) If for some reason the power goes out and your system comes on (or you turn it on) you do not want YOUR power going out on the line and electrocuting some unsuspecting lineman ('xcuse me - lineperson). The system I had was IIRC GENERAC or something like that. It was set up so that you could NOT send power to the wrong place. It takes an electrician (or someone who really knows electrician "stuff" to wire it.) However, it's not all that expensive. Maybe 2 or 3 hundred for the device and a couple of hours of electrician time.

Systems can be set up to come on automatically, but that's additional cost, obviously.

Where I live now, I can not have a generator, but I did think of a way to keep the fridge going - haven't actually done it yet. I'm thinking about getting about a 1000 watt inverter. I have a couple of "starter" batteries - jumper batteries. These should keep the fridge going for a few hours if I don't open the door. If it takes longer than that, I can bring the car battery in and then recharge it with the car. Not very efficient, but considering that we've only had one long-term (18 hour) power outage in 7 years, I think this might be a better way to proceed than the generator route. Admittedly, it is not long term (if all lines are down, our stuff will eventually thaw and go bad) but it's a lot cheaper than a generator. We keep tons of flashlights around for lighting needs (also battery radio.) Only big deal is the fridge.

Do your own research, of course because YMMV.
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Old 08-28-2014, 07:04 AM   #3
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Natural gas generators are very popular here in the Houston area. We have a neighbor with one that when completely installed cost almost $10,000. It comes on automatically in the event of a power outage. It is sized to run his whole house including the AC. He has to run it about once per month for an hour or so. I hear it running and it's really annoying on a Saturday morning when I'd like to be drinking coffee on my patio.

I suspect you would need to run a propane generator the same way. If you are only covering your refrigerator it could be a lot smaller. I've seen people with construction grade/sized gasoline generators that they used to keep a refrigerator running. One of these could keep several refrigerators cold but they won't run a whole house AC unit. Obviously, you need to run these outside so you don't kill your whole family from carbon monoxide poisoning. You can't assume natural gas lines would still operate in the event of a quake so propane is the best bet. The propane tank would have to be big enough to run your generator for the time period you felt electricity could be out. Is that weeks in the event of a major quake?

I've thought about getting a generator but I could completely replace everything in my two refrigerators for a couple of hundred dollars. If the power is out for weeks, I'm not interested in sitting around here worrying about it coming back on. In the event of a major event (hurricane most likely), it's my intent to drive to Missouri for as long as it takes. I think I'd have the same plan if I lived in California and worried about quakes.
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Old 08-28-2014, 09:00 AM   #4
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No experience with nat gas or propane. I have a small Honda(2000W). Start it up twice a year, then drain gas and add Stabil. To date no problems. Won't run the whole house. Just a fridge for a while, then blower on nat gas furnace, maybe a couple light bulbs.

Once you get into whole house equipment, break out your wallet. We won't freeze, but no hot water or A/C. That's OK for us.
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Old 08-28-2014, 09:28 AM   #5
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No need for a whole house size to just run a frig and microwave, and some lights or other electrical needs. A portable approx 5000-7000 watt size will do fine and more than cover your needs. It will have a single cylinder 4 cycle gas engine, unless you get a kit to run it off natural gas or propane. But for occasional use, the gas only is fine. The key is to not let gas sit in the carb or tank for long periods. Most have a fuel shut off. Close that and let it run out of fuel. Drain the tank. Now it can sit until you need it without much concern besides keep it covered and basically clean. It does not need to be started every month as long as you drain fuel and keep it protected.

When you need it, put fuel in and start it up. Keep fuel in containers and rotate that fuel by dumping in your car then refilling containers to keep the containers fresh fuel. Around 3 months is good for rotation time.

A frig will keep cold for several hours doing nothing. Without electrical or any connections. Assuming you leave door closed and do not open constantly. Same for freezer, but they will last longer up to 24 hours without getting above freezing temps inside. So don't worry about if power goes out and it is a few hours until you get home to start generator.

BTW, as stated, you do not put power into your house system. You plug individual appliances and lights into the portable generator. Big whole house size systems do have switch boxes to power the whole house system, and not put power into the grid - not required for a portable temporary generator.

A 5-7kW generator is about $400-600 and will have some wheels to make it easier to roll around. you can get smaller 2kW models for $200-400, but you could need more capacity if you run a lot of stuff, so get bigger for little additional cost.

Also important - run the generator outside and away from windows. You don't want to die from carbon monoxide due to exhaust. After any big power outage you always hear of someone that runs generator inside, and then has consequences. Get enough length and capacity extension cords to allow the generator to be away form house enough for safe distance.
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Old 08-28-2014, 09:52 AM   #6
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Koolau View Post
...

Where I live now, I can not have a generator, but I did think of a way to keep the fridge going - haven't actually done it yet. I'm thinking about getting about a 1000 watt inverter. I have a couple of "starter" batteries - jumper batteries. These should keep the fridge going for a few hours if I don't open the door. If it takes longer than that, I can bring the car battery in and then recharge it with the car. ... .
I've done something similar. I have a sump pump hooked up to a battery and inverter, and I did use it once to run the freezer and then the fridge for a while during an outage. A couple considerations:

1) You might need a larger than 1000W inverter to start a fridge. While it may use < 300W running, it can take many times that for a few seconds to get started.

2) Don't undersetimate how heavy and solid the connections need to be from the battery to the inverter. Think big honkin' cables and connections, and then make it 3x what you were thinking.

If that fridge draws a 12A surge at 110, that's about 120 amps at the 12V battery. The inverter will shut off if the voltage at its input drops to ~ 10.2 V to protect the battery. So between the battery drooping due to this heavy draw, and the wires/connections losing a few tenths of a volt, you hit that 10.2 V limit pretty easily. It will oscillate on/off, shutting off, which brings the battery voltage back up so it turns on again, then shuts off due to the drop as the motor tries again.

How close can you get the car to the fridge? It helps to connect the inverter to the car and have the car running - the alternator will keep the battery boosted near full voltage, and supply some of the current. Use a good heavy extension cord to the fridge, and you should be OK - 25 foot maybe OK, 50 foot could be pushing it I think.

-ERD50





How to Run a Refrigerator on an Inverter | Home Guides | SF Gate
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Old 08-28-2014, 11:04 AM   #7
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How close can you get the car to the fridge? It helps to connect the inverter to the car and have the car running - the alternator will keep the battery boosted near full voltage, and supply some of the current. Use a good heavy extension cord to the fridge, and you should be OK - 25 foot maybe OK, 50 foot could be pushing it I think.
Yes.

Putting the inverter at the car and running 110V AC on the extension would be much better than trying to run 12V from the car to the inverter inside the house or lugging the battery back and forth.

You're being conservative on the allowable length of extension cord though. A 50 ft contractor grade extension cord with three #12 conductors would have no more voltage drop than the electrical circuit (it's close to 50 ft at my house) running from your breaker box to the fridge. I think you could even get away with a 100 ft cord with 12 guage conductors if need be. Use the shortest one you can though.........
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Old 08-28-2014, 11:25 AM   #8
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You're being conservative on the allowable length of extension cord though. A 50 ft contractor grade extension cord with three #12 conductors would have no more voltage drop than the electrical circuit (it's close to 50 ft at my house) running from your breaker box to the fridge. I think you could even get away with a 100 ft cord with 12 guage conductors if need be. Use the shortest one you can though.........
Good point. A 15 amp house circuit will have just 14 GA and 50 feet runs would not be unexpected, and a 12 GA ext cord will go further (1.59x) for the same droop.

I also suspect (but don't know), that a fridge will do OK with a droop while starting up. It might be harder on the motor, but for a few start-ups in emergency conditions, I'm thinking it wouldn't do much harm long term.


Hmmm, looking into this some more... 12 AWG is 1.58 ohm per 1000 feet. So a 100 foot cord (200' wire) would be 0.32 ohms. A 15 A surge would drop 4.74V from the ~ 115V source. Significant, but only ~ 4% - and that leads me to think even that would not be a problem.

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Old 08-28-2014, 11:51 AM   #9
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I wonder about the practicality of generator for earthquakes. They don't happen very often and if they do yes you would lose the food in your fridge (and you might anyways depending how much damage and how much gas you had access too). The folks I know living up in the Santa Cruz mountains have them but that's because they lose power pretty much every year for a day or two during winter storms so it does make sense.

Now having a 72hr supply of water, blankets and some food out of the house where you can easily get at it...that is good preparation. And that reminds me we need to change out the water in the emergency supply soon
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Old 08-28-2014, 03:35 PM   #10
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No experience with nat gas or propane. I have a small Honda(2000W). Start it up twice a year, then drain gas and add Stabil. To date no problems. Won't run the whole house. Just a fridge for a while, then blower on nat gas furnace, maybe a couple light bulbs.

Once you get into whole house equipment, break out your wallet. We won't freeze, but no hot water or A/C. That's OK for us.
Thanks to all for the useful information. Thanks MRG, as mentioned, I want a small portable generator. I understand the Honda 2000 has a good
reputation.

I just want to avoid having to mess around with gasoline. Keep fresh supply on hand, run generator till dry to store, etc.

Anyone, have actual experience with a propane portable generator.
(again, just want to run a couple of lights, refrigerator, and make a cup of coffee in microwave).
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Old 08-28-2014, 05:27 PM   #11
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Well if you don't want to touch gas there are several models. Just google propane generators, amazon has a wide range. You could also check out these:

http://www.generatorsales.com/order/...2000i_Tri_Fuel


Honda generators with a third party tri-fuel system so you can use propane. I have no real experience with the fuel conversion, but it's proven technology.

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Old 08-28-2014, 05:32 PM   #12
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We have a 4500 watt (peak, 4,000 continuous) Honda super quiet and those last two words made it expensive, about $2,500. It's in a foam-lined cabinet and has what looks like an automotive muffler on it. I forget the sound level but you can stand next to it and carry on a conversation without raising your voice. I paid for that so if I ran it at night I didn't want to have the neighbors coming after us with torches and pitchforks. And we'd like to get some sleep too.

Before buying it I did a lot of reading about using generators to power a home. Back then (~1999) whole house generators usually started about five figures.

In our old house the power lines were up in the trees and we were virtually guaranteed to lose power in a thunderstorm about half the time so it did see use there. And yes, we did have a transfer switch to isolate the house from the power lines during use. It will power a gas furnace (just the blower motor, really to think about there) the refrigerator, TV, computer and a few light bulbs. It will not power a central air conditioner, or at least not the start-up power a CAC needs. and if we wanted to use a high-draw appliance like a hair dryer, microwave, or clothes iron you need to know what wattage or amperes they need and start load shedding so as not to overload the generator. And you also need to know what leg each load is on so you don't leave one leg unloaded and overload the other. If the circuit breaker on the generator only looks at the whole load you can still fry a winding in the generator.

A couple of other things to think about with a portable. If you're thinking about using it during or shortly after a storm while it is still raining, you'll need to put it under a roof that is not attached to your house so the attached garage is out. One may exist that is weatherproofed but I never found one and I looked. If in an attached garage it will take a while longer for the carbon monoxide to get inside, but it will eventually and it will kill you and your family. If you don't cover it and keep it dry you risk electrocution by simply walking near it to add fuel or shut it down when the power comes back on. Permanent installations are weather-proofed and properly grounded so don't have those issues.

Permanent installations have come down in price but a lot depends on the installation. If it runs on natural gas you'll need to run a gas line of course and if propane you'll need a large tank for that. Also, if NG, does the supply to your house have the capacity to supply the generator or will you need to enlarge that too?

Also, do you want to be able to run everything in the house, or are you willing to have only partial power to selected appliances/outlets to get a lower priced generator and installation?

Here's a link to a page of whole-house generators at Home Depot. On that page alone they range in price from $1,861 to $16,000 depending on capacity. They've come down a lot in price since I last looked! An item to look for carefully is the noise level and to do some reading on what that number means. If the manufacturer made any effort to keep it quiet (and this will matter a lot!) they will proudly say so and what the noise level is in their advertising. If you can't find the noise information it is safe to assume it's noisy as h*ll and as 2B pointed out it is annoying to the neighbors. In a prolonged outtage you're gonna have the neighbors hating you for that.
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Old 08-31-2014, 03:14 PM   #13
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I have several generators at the camp, the largest will do 12KW. Have not used it in a few years. Just run it a half hour every other month for exercise. It is a gas hog, and noisy, came with the purchase of the camp.

Sometime next week will have an electrician or two give me a quote for a proper manual transfer switch at the meter. Figure it will cost a few thou. The trransfer swithces themselves at 200 Amp rating are many hundreds of bucks alone. Once it tis done will bring the 12KW beast home. Make small shed for it. Looking at the current winter forecast, decided it would be a prudent move.

A few years ago had an exended outage, and rigged a suicide cord arrangement which got us furnace run capability, with the main breaker off. Do not care to redo the exercise. It is not for the un-initiated in the electrical field.
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Old 08-31-2014, 04:50 PM   #14
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I wonder about the practicality of generator for earthquakes. They don't happen very often and if they do yes you would lose the food in your fridge (and you might anyways depending how much damage and how much gas you had access too). The folks I know living up in the Santa Cruz mountains have them but that's because they lose power pretty much every year for a day or two during winter storms so it does make sense.

Now having a 72hr supply of water, blankets and some food out of the house where you can easily get at it...that is good preparation. And that reminds me we need to change out the water in the emergency supply soon
I agree that it's too much work to set up your own mini power station.

We're in Northern California and have earthquake insurance. We live just 20 miles from Napa and nothing happened to our place although we were on vacation at the time.

Our preparations:
1) Water jugs stored in a wine cellar. The people who sell it say it will last indefinitely but I do mark the date.
2) Plenty of wine in that wine cellar and lots of soft drinks.
3) A Coleman stove with propane canisters.
4) Pantry with enough food for several days or even a few weeks. Yes, it won't be delightful eating but then it would be a good time for a diet.
5) Can raid the refrigerator first before the food goes bad. Who cares about maybe $100 of food spoilage. It won't probably happen anyway.
6) Plenty of flashlights and one of those LED lanterns. Also candles.
7) If it's cold we have wood and a stove + fireplace.
8) Redundancy in communications: ATT landline, Tmoble cell, Tracfone (Verizon) cell
9) Reasonable amount of cash refreshed monthly.
10) A Smith-Weston ... just for those weirdos out there.
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