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Generator: To buy or not to buy....
Old 12-22-2006, 03:49 PM   #1
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Generator: To buy or not to buy....

We had a little wind storm in the PacNW last week. Our place lost power for 5 days, and everything in the house is electric -- hot water, heat, stove, etc.

Luckily, we were out of town in warmer climes for the entire episode, but it got me thinking (once again) about getting a generator or making some other changes.

So, I figure our options are:

1) Get a massive stand-by propane-fueled generator and tie it in to the main panel with an automatic switch. Downside: cost, maintenance, noise.

2) Get a portable gas-fueled generator, add a manual switch to the panel, and bring the thing out whenever we need it to power a few critical circuits. Downside: storage, maintenance, noise.

3) Switch a few key appliances over to propane (e.g., heat, stove, hot water). Downside: cost.

4) Leave town whenever the power goes out.

I'm leaning towards some combination of (4) and (2). Anybody have any sage advice on generators? Our local Costco has a Coleman PowerMate 5500W portable gas-fueled generator for about $450 that looks reasonable for powering the fridge, some lights, and space heaters. I assume we could add a manual switchover for another $300 or so.
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Re: Generator: To buy or not to buy....
Old 12-22-2006, 04:01 PM   #2
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Re: Generator: To buy or not to buy....

after a storm here when everybody's generator turns on i just leave town. even if you hook one up to your circuit breaker box so you can use your central air conditioning and so won't have the noise of your neighbors' generators keeping you up all night, the smell of gas & diesel permeating the air is enough to make me take the generator money & use it for a hotel room elsewhere.

my brother with three kids in school has less option.
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Re: Generator: To buy or not to buy....
Old 12-22-2006, 04:08 PM   #3
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Re: Generator: To buy or not to buy....

My suggestion to keep from killing a lineman would be to get a portable unit and a good extension cord and to plug in the appliances you need. I don't think a manual throw is a good idea. A portable unit gives you alot of flexibility for little cost. Easy to sell, too.

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Re: Generator: To buy or not to buy....
Old 12-22-2006, 04:08 PM   #4
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Re: Generator: To buy or not to buy....

We sometimes get long outages here -- last year we were out for two weeks.

First option is a bad idea. You don't need to run your entire house. In the short term all you need is some lights and perhaps the fridge.

I decided not to get a portable generator because of the reasons you gave. I don't like having gasoline around.

If you already have a propane tank, you could end up saving money by going to an on-demand water heater.

If you can take showers, heat the house and cook, you can get by without a generator. Perhaps a wood stove and a new water heater would work for you. I also have an inverter that I can plug in to the car, and can run a cord into the house for lights and smaller appliances.

The freezer can be managed such that you can go a week without power.

Here's my "Storm Coming" checklist:

* Do Laundry
* Make Ice Blocks
* Organize Freezer (put stuff you'll need in cooler)
* Tank up Cars
* Assemble Flashlights
* Check Batteries
* Check Lamp Oil
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Re: Generator: To buy or not to buy....
Old 12-22-2006, 04:09 PM   #5
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Re: Generator: To buy or not to buy....

Quote:
Originally Posted by wab
Our local Costco has a Coleman PowerMate 5500W portable gas-fueled generator for about $450 that looks reasonable for powering the fridge, some lights, and space heaters. I assume we could add a manual switchover for another $300 or so.
I've been lusting over those too. They seem common enough that Consumer Reports is probably rating them.

Generating power is incredibly cheap considering the use you'll no doubt get out of it. Of course you also have the maintenance hassle of making sure its starting system can crank it over when it's below freezing and you haven't touched it for a few weeks. But compared to chopping firewood or trying to keep your pipes from freezing it's probably cheap insurance. 5500W sounds like a lot-- unless you're running the furnace, the oven, and the dryer you could probably get away with something smaller. But the bigger generator will handle a bigger starting surge and probably has a better warranty.

Your local utility is real touchy about how you connect those into your panel so that you don't light up the grid when they're working on it. But you probably have to use a licensed electrician to hook it up anyway, and he'll be able to tell you what he's hooking up most frequently...
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Re: Generator: To buy or not to buy....
Old 12-22-2006, 04:11 PM   #6
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Re: Generator: To buy or not to buy....

I am trying to simplify my life- generators are not a step in that direction.

My family has 4 dwellings- usually at least 2 of us have power. I am the one most often out, and for the longest period. I have a gym for showers and staying warm- except of course in situations like this recent one where everyone is out.

My main gesture toward the damn power situation is never having more food on hand, including frozen food, than I can stand to lose.

I am getting seriously tired of this after so many years- it seems that the utilities could have buried the lines many times over with all the overtime they would save, not to mention that the consumers and businesses could afford to pay a bit more for the capital cost, as these outages are expensive in so many ways.

For up to 48 hours, I would rather cook outdoors and bundle up to stay warm, or burn some wood in my wood stove and use candles for light.

Still, a generator may be the way to go.

Ha
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Re: Generator: To buy or not to buy....
Old 12-22-2006, 04:17 PM   #7
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Re: Generator: To buy or not to buy....

Quote:
Originally Posted by wab
We had a little wind storm in the PacNW last week. Our place lost power for 5 days, and everything in the house is electric -- hot water, heat, stove, etc.

Luckily, we were out of town in warmer climes for the entire episode, but it got me thinking (once again) about getting a generator or making some other changes.

So, I figure our options are:

1) Get a massive stand-by propane-fueled generator and tie it in to the main panel with an automatic switch. Downside: cost, maintenance, noise.

2) Get a portable gas-fueled generator, add a manual switch to the panel, and bring the thing out whenever we need it to power a few critical circuits. Downside: storage, maintenance, noise.

3) Switch a few key appliances over to propane (e.g., heat, stove, hot water). Downside: cost.

4) Leave town whenever the power goes out.

I'm leaning towards some combination of (4) and (2). Anybody have any sage advice on generators? Our local Costco has a Coleman PowerMate 5500W portable gas-fueled generator for about $450 that looks reasonable for powering the fridge, some lights, and space heaters. I assume we could add a manual switchover for another $300 or so.
Wab, I bought a 5500W generator after a 2-day power outage a couple of years ago. I question whether it would be large enough to power "a few critical circuits" through a manual switch.

I say that because I used ours to power the refrigerator, a small chest freezer, and a 14,000 BTU air conditioner (heat pump) similar to the individual units mounted in a motel room. It put a lot of stress on the generator whenever the heat pump kicked on. Not sure how much different the load would be with space heaters, but in my case I'm sorry I didn't spring for a larger unit.

And to Nord's point about starting when you haven't used it for a few weeks, I've been lax in running mine regularly and tested it out earlier this week after not running it for several months. It started on the first pull. The secret is 1) disconnect the gas line from the tank and run the engine until it dies from lack of fuel each time you store it away, and 2) try to use "fresh" gas. I don't keep an emergency supply on hand, but have a siphon tube and three vehicles I can tap if needed.

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Re: Generator: To buy or not to buy....
Old 12-22-2006, 04:19 PM   #8
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Re: Generator: To buy or not to buy....

Or get some verrrrry large capacitors and a big crank handle...............
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Re: Generator: To buy or not to buy....
Old 12-22-2006, 04:32 PM   #9
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Re: Generator: To buy or not to buy....

And I agree you don't need to go to the expense of tying into your panel. I built a couple of industrial strength extension cords and they worked fine for the items I was powering.

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Re: Generator: To buy or not to buy....
Old 12-22-2006, 04:33 PM   #10
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Re: Generator: To buy or not to buy....

With all the storms and outages we have had around me I have bought a small one 1100 watts so I can get the big tractor started to move snow if necessary. (Block Heater and Battery Charger). This will also run my sump pumps.

I have a gas fireplace in the house so it wont freeze but if very cold and windy it would get cool.

Now I am looking at a big gas unit (6200 Watts). The furnace takes quite a bit but my big draw is the pump in the water well. I think for me 10 or 12 gage extension cords will be the way to hook up rather than swithches at the panels. I would have to do one in the house and one in the barn as the well is in the barn. I am also going to check out generators that will run on the tractors PTO.

Diesel tractor should run 10 KW for 24 hours on 15 gallons but I would only run it two or three hours a day.

My alternative is to hunker down and be primative near the fireplace like I always have.

If it is summer who cares as long as I can run the sump pumps once in a while.

Bruce
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Re: Generator: To buy or not to buy....
Old 12-22-2006, 05:09 PM   #11
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Re: Generator: To buy or not to buy....

Dh bought one several years ago and it was one of the best purchases he's made. We lose power frequently and always seems to be in winter or spring when we need heat and/or our sump pump. I don't know the size but it is big enough to run the fridge, sump pump and a few lights. We cook with gas and the hot water heater is also gas so we're all set on that front. We thought about tying it in to the electrical system in the house but for the amount of time we're usually out of power it's not really needed.

He makes sure he starts it a couple times a year, usually in the fall to prepare for winter and then again late spring if the sump pump is still going. As for keeping gas around we have to do that for the lawn mower and the snow blower so it's not an issue.

Up until last year we would share it with my parents next door. My stepmom HAS to have her coffee in the morning and it just wouldn't handle that along with both refridgerators and two sumps going so he bought his own. Now we have a backup if one won't start or if one of us isn't home we can at least keep the others cellar from flooding. We feel it was well worth the money and has more than paid for itself by keeping our food from spoiling and not ruining things in the cellar with flooding.
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Re: Generator: To buy or not to buy....
Old 12-22-2006, 09:45 PM   #12
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Re: Generator: To buy or not to buy....

Many moons ago, my Dad bought a used generator for running our furnace, refrigerator, and a light or two. The guy he bought it from had got it to use for camping....which he and his family did ONE time....they hated camping, and so sold the generator....for $50!!! It's a 3500watt unit.

We've used it a couple of times, and I start it every once in while. We cut the power line to the water pump on the furnace and sliced in male/female plugs, and just run an extension cord to it, the frij, and a lamp. Works fine.

I'm looking to buy a new one in the spring, but this time it will be a combo generator/welder. When I FIRE I'll no longer have access to the welder at w*rk. Since I have plenty of room in my workshop, I'll keep the old one for a backup...or a 'loner' for the neighbors.
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Re: Generator: To buy or not to buy....
Old 12-23-2006, 11:06 AM   #13
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Re: Generator: To buy or not to buy....

Quote:
Originally Posted by HaHa
I am getting seriously tired of this after so many years- it seems that the utilities could have buried the lines many times over with all the overtime they would save, not to mention that the consumers and businesses could afford to pay a bit more for the capital cost, as these outages are expensive in so many ways.
Considering the expenses of dealing with winter, let alone the morale issues, I wonder why people think that Hawaii's cost of living is so "expensive".

But yikes, our thermometer hit 68 degrees this morning so it's probably better not to come here until it warms up in February or March...
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Re: Generator: To buy or not to buy....
Old 12-23-2006, 12:14 PM   #14
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Re: Generator: To buy or not to buy....

Speaking as a backpacker who does not live in snow country, I don't worry about this stuff. If worst comes to worst we roll the sleeping bags out in front of the fireplace, set the propane stove up in the kitchen (WITH adequate ventilation), don our expedition-weight longjohns and fleece, and "go camping."

One thing I make sure to have is an old-style phone that doesn't need electricity to work. Other than that, it's marshmallow-roasting time!



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Re: Generator: To buy or not to buy....
Old 12-23-2006, 12:31 PM   #15
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Re: Generator: To buy or not to buy....

I bought a Honda 2000 watt generator a couple of years ago to use on our family camping trips - it has been used for power outages, using power tools in remote areas, run the AC on our camper/charge batteries/make daquiries etc. It is about the size of a roll on suitcase/very quiet and starts w/ the first pull.
It is good to have back power - but buy a quality unit, cheap ones are a pain to start/are loud and don't hold their value.
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Re: Generator: To buy or not to buy....
Old 12-23-2006, 01:47 PM   #16
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Re: Generator: To buy or not to buy....

I too weathered the little blow in the PNW. When we built or house(retirement retreat) I installed a pad mounted generator with a transfer switch. We cook with propane and have a propane fireplace so adding the line for the generator was no big deal.
What I like is that the power goes off the generator starts and switches automatically to power the well, septic pumps, lights and outlets in the mail rom of the house. Oh yea the garage door opener circut also. Its a pain in the butt to climb over the cars to release the door opener when its stuck. The generator does a once per week self test and for three years has required minimal maintenance.
For me it was a no brainer. No danger to the utility folks because the transfer switch isolates the circuits powered by the generator from the utility. Auto start auto switch so I do'nt have to get up and start it when its 20 degrees outside and snowing. Change the oil and filter once a year and replace the starting battery every 3 - 4 years. Much less work than a car. Since its propane powered the fuel never goes stale.
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Re: Generator: To buy or not to buy....
Old 12-24-2006, 07:13 AM   #17
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Re: Generator: To buy or not to buy....

when we will build our retirement home i will have the house wired from the beginning so all critical ckts will be together and accessable to feed with a generator switch. a little planning in the beginning makes it nice and easy later on to do
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Re: Generator: To buy or not to buy....
Old 12-24-2006, 08:47 AM   #18
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Re: Generator: To buy or not to buy....

We have a 8kw diesel powered generator in the motorhome and it works very well. At home, we installed a 20kw natural gas powered generator, for about $12,000 to power all the essentials when the power goes out. Worth the $$$, not sure? Used only twice in last two years...

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Re: Generator: To buy or not to buy....
Old 12-24-2006, 06:13 PM   #19
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Re: Generator: To buy or not to buy....

Quote:
Originally Posted by ex_CFO_now_RVer
We have a 8kw diesel powered generator in the motorhome and it works very well. At home, we installed a 20kw natural gas powered generator, for about $12,000 to power all the essentials when the power goes out. Worth the $$$, not sure? Used only twice in last two years...
Why not just make the motorhome your emergency shelter? (That was one of the options we considered and nixed.)

I've been researching this topic a little more this weekend, and now I'm leaning towards a large UPS (I found a good local deal on a APC Smart UPS 3000VA) coupled with a quiet, clean AC generator (Honda and Yamaha both make models with built-in inverters that seem to fit the bill).

Or we may just rough it, but I haven't been able to convince my wife that a power outage is just a fun camping expedition plus an opportunity to organize the fridge.
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Re: Generator: To buy or not to buy....
Old 12-26-2006, 06:43 PM   #20
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Re: Generator: To buy or not to buy....

wab, Our motorhome is not always close by. Today, we are in Ohio, the MH is in the Keys, 1500 miles away. Probably bought too much generator, but who knows.


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