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Electric Generators
Old 08-27-2007, 05:00 PM   #1
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Electric Generators

Well, what a fun weekend this has been. Chicago got socked last week with a massive thunderstorm which knocked out power for a couple days.

My wife and I were lucky in that the backup on the sump pump kept working as long as it kept raining. Many others in my area including some relatives were not so lucky and are now pumping several feet of water out of their basements. I've decided now that I'm not going without power again and I want to by a generator for the next storm.

I know that I need a transfer switch to take my house off the grid before generating my own power and a local contractor has quoted me $500.

My real question is who has any experience with generators? I don't think I want to drop the $5K it would cost to get a natural gas model. It looks like Honda has some nice 5K watt models for around $2500.

Any thoughts?
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Old 08-27-2007, 05:42 PM   #2
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We are just north of Waukgean and used to mess with the battery back up sump pumps and gas fired generators. Problem with the generator was the infrequent use it got. The last time we needed it we had a devil of a time getting it started and then the carb float got stuck and gasoline poured out (fun things to deal with at 2am). Then someone nearby had their place burn down when using a generator. We invested in a natural gas generator that automatically turns on after a power failure. Wow it is nice. It cycles on once a week as a check. I think it cost us 4500 to buy and have it installed. It runs a good portion of the house and has come in handly on several occasions. I had priced a good battery back up sump system and it would run in the 2G range (we get lots of water from the drain tile around the house).
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Old 08-27-2007, 05:46 PM   #3
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Quote:
Originally Posted by saluki9 View Post
Many others in my area including some relatives were not so lucky and are now pumping several feet of water out of their basements.
It looks like Honda has some nice 5K watt models for around $2500.
Any thoughts?
This may sound like an ingenuous question, but unless you need the reliable electricity for additional reasons, is it better to spend the money on keeping the water from getting in? Is the basement below Chicago's swampy water table?

Reams & reams of home-improvement articles have been written on grading lots, directing water away from homes, designing gutters & splash blocks, french drains around foundations, water-proofing foundations, and even putting french drains in the basement's inside perimeter. The solution for your house might be cheaper than buying a generator-- and then having to maintain it.
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Old 08-27-2007, 05:53 PM   #4
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I can't speak for Saluki but the drains around my foundation empty into my sump pumps (yep, plural...I get that much water). That's the norm in my neck of the woods. Our yard is landscaped away from the house and the gutters drain towards the back of the property through underground drain tile but there is still significant water intake during heavy rainfall. Nature of the beast. I'm not sure if the water table is high but I suspect it is since I'm less than 2 miles from Lake Michigan.
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Old 08-27-2007, 05:59 PM   #5
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Saluki, I spent 23 hours without power last weekend. My preventative effort consisted of using a coffee mug to scoop from the sump well to a 5 gallon cooler which I carried up the stairs and dumped out in the driveway. I made 15 trips with the cooler and instructed DW and son to pull one cooler per hour while I was at work. We stayed dry many neighbors did not.
I'm also thinking generator I just signed off Honda Cars Motorcycles Watercraft ATVs Engines Generators, Acura about 15 minutes ago after looking at the local dealership an hour ago. The sight had useful information (wattage calculators etc) and listed msrp (my dealer was running almost +10%). I am thinking honda as a friend has one it's quiet, starts easy and is dependable.
If I talk myself out of this I will at least deal with the sump issue. One friend suggested a battery backup for the sump and another said if I have city water (I do) there is a setup that works as a siphon when the power goes off and the city water kicks on to provide the suction. I think that is my Wednesday project to talk with the local plumbing supply house.
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Old 08-27-2007, 06:00 PM   #6
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We have an 8000KW generator that is run on propane (No natural gas here). It was here when we bought the house. It is wired to run about 1/3 the house (all the critical things - fridge, certain lights, furnance, sump pumps, garage door openers etc). Its more than adequate, but if I was to do it again, I'd get a bigger more expensive one that

a) lives outside (they are noisy - mine is in the cellar and has an exhaust) b) does automatic weekly self-tests (startups and shut downs)
c) kicks on automatically when needed and off when not.
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Old 08-27-2007, 06:11 PM   #7
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My parents live in a way-out kind of spot, and they are in their 70's, and they invested in a propane generator that starts up automatically if the power goes out. It's good for them since it's getting really hard for my dad to start up a manual unit, and we don't have to worry so much about them.

OTOH, we live a bit outside of suburbia, and got caught once when Hurricane Isabelle hit the northeast. We were without power for 5 days, and didn't want to have to go through that again. Our biggest issues are water (need juice for the well pump), heat (oil burner), and the fridge. So we did just what you are saying - we got a Honda generator and had the house wired accordingly. Last spring someone knocked down a tree onto the electric wires, and we were without power for 24 hours. It was great to test it out! It is nice to know we have it for emergencies - just fire it up, plug it in, and flip the switch. When we were without electricity, I was giddy about being able to use the computer.

The Hondas are supposed to be easiest to start when you don't use them often. We have been advised to start it up a few times a year. We have a 6500W unit, runs on gas. It's not like we have an ongoing problem (we only have used it once in 3 years) but it is nice to know we have it. 5K would probably be enough, but it was only a bit more for the 6500 at the time.

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Old 08-27-2007, 06:14 PM   #8
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How often does one need a generator? I guess not too often and not for too long. May be a couple times a year, each lasting at most one day?

If I were to get one, I think I would go with a small, gasoline powered, portable unit, 2KW max.
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Old 08-27-2007, 06:30 PM   #9
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If you are going to run a sump pump you will need at least 4.5kw. Portable and Emergency Generators Buyer's Guide | Northern Tool + Equipment

And that is running nothing else.

Honda knows how to make engines and makes fine generators.

You will need to decide whether to have a permanent installation with maybe a natural gas generator or something portable, most likely gas powered. The 5kw Honda sounds like a good choice.
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Old 08-27-2007, 06:34 PM   #10
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I have an old Homelite generator that we bought 2nd hand about 20 years ago, that is now my 'back up' and loaner. Just before I retired in April I bought a new Craftsman Briggs & Stratton Generator, 5600 Watt 10 HP. Since power outages are rare around here, I don't have a transfer switch, I just run a couple of extension cords to plug in what we NEED to have powered up. We don't tie it into any of the house wiring, therefore no chance to back feed into the Ameren lines.

I run it on a regular basis, and also use Sta-Bil in the fuel to keep it from going bad so quickly. If there is an outage, I can have it set up and running, and have a couple of heavy duty power cords hooked up, in less than 15 minutes. It'll run about 12+hours on a tank of gas, and I always have plenty of gas on hand for it and other power equipment.

The neighbor across the street has about the same thing, except he does have a transfer switch with about 3 or 4 house circuits hooked up to it.

BTW, our area was hit by the same storms last week, and about 3600 homes and businesses in town were w/o electricity for up to 28 hours. Also had 4.25" of rain Thursday and there were a LOT of flooded basements from run-off and sewer backups. Our lights blinked a couple of times but never went out! And since we live in an older and lower area in town, we and our neighbors don't have basements. But ALL of the homes in the newer subdivision across the street do have storm/sewer water holding tanks basements.

I got the Craftsman Generator on sale at Sears for about $625.
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Old 08-27-2007, 07:02 PM   #11
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Quote:
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If you are going to run a sump pump you will need at least 4.5kw. Portable and Emergency Generators Buyer's Guide | Northern Tool + Equipment

And that is running nothing else.
Martha,

I think the above link is designed to get the customer to buy the biggest generator possible. The numbers they provide are greatly exaggerated, and even conflicting among themselves.

As you quote above, they says 4.5kw just for the sump pump, but about a page up, they also list the requirement for the same item:

Sum pump 1/3hp, 800w operating, 1300w startup.

A few other numbers that are over exaggerated:
Desktop 600-800w
Laptop 200-250w
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Old 08-27-2007, 07:05 PM   #12
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4.5kw for a sump pump?? ...........that had me scratching my head, so I checked that link and it only says 2100 watts surge for the larger 1/2HP pump listed. Home Depot has Generac brand backup units that run on natural gas and automatically exercise themselves once a week or so....they run about $1900 w/tranfer switch for the smallest unit and figure a bit over three grand all in. The best thing about these is they work like snow blowers in Maryland.........once you have one, you'll probably never need it. They ARE the IN thing around here for homeowners running out of ideas on how to use thier home equity, but if ya depend on a sump pump, its good insurance.
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Old 08-27-2007, 07:14 PM   #13
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I bought a $500 4KW Coleman generator 18 years ago at Home Depot and have used it maybe 10 or 12 times, most recently this past weekend. We are on a well, so there is no water with no electric power.

As other posters have indicated, if you use Stabil in the fuel and start it up every couple of months, it will be ready for use. Honda makes a quiet, high quality generator, but they are expensive for intermittent, backup use.
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Old 08-27-2007, 07:16 PM   #14
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That very well may be true Sam, but my experience says it's much, much better to have a little too much generator than not quite enough. I have a freestanding 5500W (very similar to the one Goonie described) and I used it to run a small chest freezer, a refrigerator, and a motel-type 240v heat pump/ac in our room addition. On paper, the genset should handle everything OK and it has no problem in running all three. But when the a/c compressor cycles, the startup draw hits the generator's limits.

Bottom line, I recommend adding up everything then buying at least one size larger than your total says you'll need.
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Old 08-27-2007, 07:18 PM   #15
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After a "near miss" (weather man's term) with hurricane Isabelle in 2003 and spending 14 days without power, I wasn't the 1st in line for one, but.....by the beginning of the 2004 hurricane season.....I had a natural gas system that will darn near run my whole house ....including my AC system (at least upstairs OR downstairs)!...total cost approximately $5K installed.

While it is true that it has not been used extensively since then ~ other than a few hours here and there ~ neither have I used my auto/homeowner's/life insurance ...and I'm paying more EACH year for that than I did for my ONE TIME investment in the generator....

....and then there is peace of mind ~ PRICELESS!!
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Old 08-27-2007, 07:26 PM   #16
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That very well may be true Sam, but my experience says it's much, much better to have a little too much generator than not quite enough.

...

Bottom line, I recommend adding up everything then buying at least one size larger than your total says you'll need.
I completely agree. I was simply pointing out "exaggerations" in theirs listing. As for me, I know I don't want a large, heavy, and permanently installed generator.

In case of power loss, I don't care much about the A/C. I just want lights and enough power to keep the refrigerator running.
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Old 08-27-2007, 07:35 PM   #17
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In case of power loss, I don't care much about the A/C.
You live in the Houston area, right? Will you feel the same way if a hurricane knocks out power for several days - or weeks? How about your spouse?

A small back-up window AC and enough generator power capacity to run both it and critical appliances are nice things to have for those living along the Gulf Coast.
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Old 08-27-2007, 07:40 PM   #18
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You live in the Houston area, right? Will you feel the same way if a hurricane knocks out power for several days - or weeks? How about your spouse?
As long as I have enough light to see any incoming snakes or scorpions, I'm ok.

Yea, yea, yea... I know what you mean. So far, the longest black out for us was 3 hours. If it lasts for more than a day, I think we'd hop in our vehicle and take a short vacation.
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Old 08-27-2007, 07:51 PM   #19
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You live in the Houston area, right? Will you feel the same way if a hurricane knocks out power for several days - or weeks? How about your spouse?

A small back-up window AC and enough generator power capacity to run both it and critical appliances are nice things to have for those living along the Gulf Coast.
For days after Katrina, gasoline beyond what people already had in their gas tanks or gas cans was pretty much unavailable. This was because electricity was out and so pumps at the gas stations wouldn't work. If you didn't have gas for your generator, you couldn't get it. Many people who stayed during the storm ended up leaving.

There was no water pressure either (like, not one single drop coming out of my faucet), and that too was attributed to lack of electricity for pumps. So, no water and toilets didn't work. There's a lot that can happen in a hurricane due to loss of electricity.

Frank still wants a generator when we move up north. I think it's one of those "guy things"! But if he's right, and it turns out to be helpful during an icestorm, I admit I'll be the first one knocking on his door.
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Old 08-27-2007, 08:13 PM   #20
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This may sound like an ingenuous question, but unless you need the reliable electricity for additional reasons, is it better to spend the money on keeping the water from getting in? Is the basement below Chicago's swampy water table?

Reams & reams of home-improvement articles have been written on grading lots, directing water away from homes, designing gutters & splash blocks, french drains around foundations, water-proofing foundations, and even putting french drains in the basement's inside perimeter. The solution for your house might be cheaper than buying a generator-- and then having to maintain it.
It would be nice if that was all I had to worry about, but the drains all pour into my 2 sumps. On top of that , plenty of people around me have the extra joy of having the waste sewers back up into their homes so they're cleaning raw sewage out of their houses as we speak.
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