More emergency power - generator

Discussion in 'General Survival and Preparedness' started by Bandit99, Feb 5, 2016.

  1. Bandit99

    Bandit99 Monkey+++ Site Supporter+

    I’m new and I cannot believe all the good information and wisdom on this site so I am going to ask to pick some of your brains a bit more and continue an article called ‘Emergency power – for the beginner’ posted back in August 2015. Excellent read BTW...

    I recently returned to the states after years aboard and ended up in Northern Idaho, great place. We purchased rural home on 5 acres. We are currently going through our first winter and it has showed some of our weak spots – meaning - emergency power. We got hit with a wind storm and then, not long afterwards, a heavy snow storm and both gave us power outages which lasted up to 5 days which is about 1 day too long. I just don’t want to deal with it here and I have the money, time and more importantly, access to quality parts and equipment.

    So, my thought is to tie into the mains with a manual transfer switch of some sort and by tying directly into the mains I cover everything (but have some electric heaters that I would need to ensure were off). Or, it might be better to run it to the second power panel in the house and tie into only those circuits that need – not sure yet. I have worked with auto-transfer switches and for my simple requirements I feel it is just something else that could fail and is not necessary. I would build a small covered concrete pad and in theory keep the generator in the garage where it is out of the elements, roll it out, plug it in, fire it up and throw the transfer switch. I would prefer Propane or Dual fuel (propane and gas). I like diesel but I have propane and gas on property already and diesel can be hard starting at times in the cold.

    There is only my wife and I so we can easily control how much electric we are using, no kids running around.

    In short, this is what I want to cover:
    Our cistern pump (1500 gal cistern), water pressure tank (for house), 2 refrigerators, 1 freezer, 1 hot water heater, a couple of lights (all energy efficient) and the fan on the propane fireplace – that’s it.

    We have a propane cook stove and obviously we would do without the rest. I will have to look at each unit to see exactly the maximum amperage draw but all of it is relatively new energy efficient units but admit I don’t have a clue what the cistern pump needs, never had one before.

    So, that is the gist of it. My questions could seem a bit strange but I have been out of the country a long, long time and so much as changed…

    1. Generators – Costco has a Champion dual-fuel (propane/gas) 7000w Running/9000w Peak for $800 that might do the trick but I have no experience with this make.
    Question: Anyone got experience with Champion or perhaps could recommend a good generator?Honda I know is good but damn pricey but that might be the answer. I do want something reliable and willing to spend more for it, sick of Chinese crap.

    2. Can any certified Electrician wire up the switch and, more so, after completion do I have to get the electric company or someone to certify it?

    3. William Warren if you’re still out there, you said “You can install an interlock assembly on your regular circuit-breaker box, and it will keep anyone from turning on the generator unless the main breaker is turned off, thus protecting linemen who may be working on the wires. Be sure the interlock you buy has a "UL" seal…” Can you elaborate a bit more on this? I understand what an interlock is…is this a standard assembly that any Electrician would know and recommend? I assume it actually replaces the main breaker assembly…

    All-in-all I am searching for information and ideas and any and all would be appreciated. I would like to get it right the first time...

  2. ghrit

    ghrit Bad company Administrator Founding Member

    The easiest firstest.
    -Sum up the loads you want to maintain, size the gennie accordingly. (It's Killawatt meter time.)
    -I have a manual transfer arrangement feeding a subpanel that has the "critical" loads on it (well pump, water heater, reefer, freezer and the like.) A very standard arrangement, and way less cost than an auto transfer switch. On loss of mains, I have to manually make the change over and plug the gennie into an outdoor connection. (Gennie goes outside when the power goes away. In a heated garage until then, so starting is not an issue. Do NOT run an internal combustion engine indoors, regardless of fuel.)
    -If you go this, or any other route that affects, directly or otherwise, the mains, you need a licensed electrician to bless the work, even if he doesn't do it himself. The power company doesn't care, nor does the code compliance dude necessarily want to look.
    -Go Honda if you can stand the wallet smack. You will get a lot of noise about this and that, but the upshot is dependability. Mine is Craftsman. Did I was to do it again, I'd get an electric start unit. (Even so, it usually fires on the first pull.)
    -If your garage is unheated, you might want to get the gennie with a sump heater or risk real problems on the rope starter. Battery heater too, if it's electric start. Northern Idaho gets chilly now and then, yeddy?
    Gator 45/70, GOG, Motomom34 and 2 others like this.
  3. Dunerunner

    Dunerunner Brewery Monkey Moderator

    Electric start with recoil backup is key. Warm (heated) storage is another, and or a crankcase heater. Dual fuel is nice, but I am not familiar with how it switches over. If I remember, propane can be an issue in real cold weather.

    The sub panel feeding critical loads is a definite plus as is having an electrician inspect and bless the install ad @ghrit stated above. The sub panel insures you are not going to leave a breaker closed to a high wattage circuit that will overload your gen set.

    Wish I lived on property in N. Idaho.... envy...
    Tully Mars and Seepalaces like this.
  4. Seepalaces

    Seepalaces Monkey+++

    Do you have a fireplace or a woodstove?
    Tikka and Cruisin Sloth like this.
  5. William Warren

    William Warren Monkey+++

    What ghrit said, plus ...

    1. Remember that motor starting loads are a lot higher than running loads, so be sure to size the generator with enough spare power for multiple starting loads. Something as trivial as an icemaker filling with water could trip your cistern pump at the same time that one of your refrigerators is starting, so don't cheap out here.
    2. Don't assume that you'll be able to pull over a manual start engine on a cold night when you're tired. I found out the hard way that the years do take a toll, so consider electric start units.
    3. Manual transfer switches are fine if someone is always there to throw the switch. If not, an automatic switch is in order. Don't forget that if you're on vacation or visiting relatives or friends you may be faced with a choice of letting food spoil or driving on dangerous, snow covered roads to get home and start the emergency power. The whole idea is piece of mind, and the extra cost of auto-start and auto-switch is usually worth it.
    4. Duel-fuel units are, IMHO, better for wilderness locations where fuel has to be carried in than for winter backups at a home. You don't want to be in a situation where the automatic start isn't working because you have enough gas but the genset was switched to propane, vice-versa. There's also the effort of switching over, which is a lot easier to do in a dealer's showroom than during a blizzard, or when you have infirm relatives who need the power but can't risk being outside in freezing weather.
    5. Price large propane tanks against gasoline costs and storage. It costs a lot less per gallon to fill a large tank than a small one, and that price break can tilt the balance.
    6. The most important part of this is deciding what you can sacrifice during a power outage: if you've made an informed decision that you're able to forego a whole-house, fully-automatic long term power solution, then it'll sting a lot less when you have to make do with a single fridge, or wood fires in one room, etc. Things to think about -
    • Since you have two refrigerators, I assume you buy meat in bulk or butcher your own, and there's always going to be a choice between letting it spoil or spending money for the genset and fuel and wiring. Likewise, it pays to get data about how many outages have occurred, and during what season: if the temperature is below freezing during most outages, then you can do without refrigeration for a day or two, provided you have set up exterior cold boxes and are able to move the frozen stuff by yourself.
    • You may be able to economize if your home is winter-ready: assuming it has been weatherized with enough insulation to keep pipes from freezing for a day or two, you could install drainage spigots and have a plan to empty the water pipes (and heating pipes, if you have hot-water heat) instead of paying to keep the house above freezing level. You'll need to include provisions for protecting toilets and water traps, but that's pretty easy if you set it up and practice it in advance, and it will come in handy during winter vacations.
    • If you have a propane heater and can confine your activities to one or two rooms, you could allow the rest of your home to freeze so long as there won't be long-term risk to pipes, pets, musical instruments, or works of art. If you have valuable items that are sensitive to rapid temperature change, you'll need to compare the cost of backup power with that of insurance.
    • Having a "portable" generator that you have to move outdoors and plug in is a lot more work than it may seem in theory. Don't forget that you'll have to clear a path for the unit during a snowstorm, that you must be able to bear the weight on an icy path, including the weight of righting the set if it tips over, and that you'll be carrying gas or other fuel to it periodically.

    William Warren
  6. gundog10

    gundog10 Monkey++

    Long story short. I had a Champion 2000 watt inverter for four years and we ran it 8-10 hours a day nearly every day (boon docking and camp hosting) and never ever had an issue. Sold it to someone in need and couldn't find a Champion dealer close to get a new one so we picked up a Honda 2000 watt inverter generator. Is it a better generator, only time will tell but it doesn't run any better and is worse on fuel than the Champion. I recently picked up the same Champion duel fuel generator and added gas, oil and connected the battery if fired right up. It is much quieter then the 4500 watt Duromax (piece of crap) I had. One thing to note if you decide to go with the Champion is that it has a 20 amp 220/240 volt twist lock connection. You will need a 20 amp to 30 amp twist lock adapter. I also had a Reliance 10 circuit manual transfer switch installed next to our main. It works great and the switches have three settings: main, off, and generator. The transfer switch was around $400 and the install was $250. Welcome to Idaho.
  7. Tevin

    Tevin Monkey+++

    I have a Champion 7000 watt generator (which I got from Costco) and I am very happy with it. I also have a 25 year old Honda and a bunch of solar panels to complement my off grid power.

    As for a transfer switch, the manually operated versions are relatively simple and designed such that a half-assed handy homeowner can install them. In most areas you do not need a permit or an electrician unless the generator is permanently wired to the panel, and/or is an auto-start. Check your local building codes for particulars.

    I use this panel and it works great:

    You will also have to buy a generator cable (about $60).

    I consider myself highly skilled in electrical work and it took me a weekend to install my switch. My install took longer than normal due to having to run wires under floors and inside walls. If you don't care about cosmetics, this switch can be installed in one day or less.

    I will let @William Warren speak for himself, but I believe what you are referring to is a device that goes on your breaker box and will not physically let you turn two switches on at the same time. It forces you to choose one power source and shut off the other. This is how the device keeps your generator off the public grid and creating a safety hazard.

    They work well too; it's just a matter of what you're comfortable with.
    Seepalaces likes this.
  8. BTPost

    BTPost Stumpy Old Fart,Deadman Walking, Snow Monkey Moderator

    It really depends on if you are an "Appliance Operator" or a Full Blown "Wrench".... Whichever you are do NOT blow your Hard Earned Bucks on a BigBox Store Genset.... They are Consumer Crap and will NOT last 200 Hours.... If you have Good Mechanical Skills, go looking for a USED Genset out of an Junked RV, (Onan or Kohler) and go with one of those.... The Gasoline fueled ones can be converted to Dual or Tri Fueled, (Gasoline, Propane, Natural Gas) with simple "Off the Shelf" Kits, in an afternoon. These are Rugged Heavy Iron Gensets that will run easily 10K Operational Hours between Major Maintenance, just by doing the usual LubeOil, and filter changes on the OEM Schedule. If you are look for Long Term Reliability and the BEST Power Generation, I sure like the Onan J Series Units.... They were built in 1, 2, & 4 Cyl Version, Diesel, Gasoline, and Tri-Fueld Versions, Air Cooled, and Liquid Cooled Versions, all designed using the maximum number of Common Parts, thru the whole Series....I have 3, Single Cyl, 3 Kw, Diesels, of which 2 are Liquid cooled and 1 is Air Cooled. I have a 4 cyl, 15Kw Gasoline, Liquid Cooled as well as two 4 cyl, 12.5 Kw, Diesel, Air Cooled Versions. They all use Common LubeOil, and Fuel Filters, and many of the Parts are interchangeable.
    Gator 45/70 and GOG like this.
  9. gundog10

    gundog10 Monkey++

    Dang, I must be a real dumbutt, Lets see I said I ran my cheep rotten Champion for four years for 8 to ten hours a day now let me just add this up 365X lets say 8 X 4 OH wait that is just a little over 200 hours. Not everyone can afford a Onan or would want to lug a four hundred pound genny around. Are the Onan/Cummings great generators yes, but may just not be right for everyone.
  10. Bandit99

    Bandit99 Monkey+++ Site Supporter+

    Okay, I think I got everything I need now to include equipment recommendations and tidbits of first-hand experience. Yes, I can wiring it myself as I've done electronics all my life to keep myself fed. I really like the subpanel idea and the safety feature of that physical switch.

    "Do you have a fireplace or a woodstove?"
    No, just the propane fireplace but I sure wish I did as have lots of wood, especially after this last wind storm, but there is no place to put one in the house. There use to be a woodstove in the garage which was removed but some day in the future I intend to put one back in there.

    Thanks to all! - Rick
    GOG likes this.
  11. Motomom34

    Motomom34 Monkey+++

    We have one of these extra panels. The guy that put it in was not certified but he worked for an electrician. It runs half of our house. Never thought to get it certified. Whoops.
  12. Airtime

    Airtime Monkey+++

    So, as you've now read there are multiple ways to connect the generator:
    1. Manual transfer switch on the line feeding the breaker panel mains
    2. Auto trasnsfer switch on line feeding mains
    3. Come off a breaker in main panel thru a manual switch to sub-panel
    4. Come off breaker thru an auto switch to sub-panel
    5. Use interlock mechanism on panel that mechanically interlocks main breaker and an adjacent breaker allowing only one or the other to be "on" then connect the second breaker to the gennie and backfeed into panel. Some are a little complex but here is what the simple one's look like:
    How Does It Work |

    An electrician should be able to deal with any of them if you can't.

    Couple things not mentioned yet, auto transfer switches are not that much benefit without an autostart genset. If you do use autostart and you use methods 2 or 4, the electric code (and just common sense) demands that the gennie must be capable of picking up the full load of the panel or subpanel. So if you have a 100 amp 240 v main panel you can not use an auto start/transfer with method 2 if the gennie is less than a 24 kw rig. Alternativey, if your genset is a 6 kw unit and you want auto operation, you'd need to go method 4 with the breaker capacity on the line-in on the subpanel being a 20 amp for 240 volt feed or 40 or 50 amp for 120 volt feed to subpanel. With manual transfer switches, you can label which circuits to manually shut down before the switch.

    This stuff is not hard. I put method 1 on my shop then actually have a breaker there that feeds a line back to house with method 3 feeding subpanel with critical house circuits. And to top it off when my solar gets to point of running off grid, I'll connect the off-grid terminals on the inverters into the shop panel (and hence house as well) using method 5 with an interlock.

    Have fun.
    Last edited: Feb 6, 2016
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  13. Altoidfishfins

    Altoidfishfins Monkey+++ Site Supporter+

    Ok, the interlock is a new one on me.
    Why would you need an interlock main breaker if you already have a transfer switch (auto or manual) to prevent generator backfeed?
    Is it a choice between using a XFR switch, OR an interlock main breaker?
  14. ghrit

    ghrit Bad company Administrator Founding Member

    There MUST be a way to prevent the output of the gennie getting back onto the mains coming in. Xfer switches do that. So will an interlock that prevents the gennie output from lighting up the house unless the main breaker from the house commercial supply is open. Effectively, they both serve the same purpose, that being preventing the gennie from powering up the neighborhood and zapping unwary repair people or flame testing the installation when mains power comes back on.
  15. Altoidfishfins

    Altoidfishfins Monkey+++ Site Supporter+

    Ok, so it's just an alternative to a XFR switch.
    I fully understand the very real need to keep genset power from reaching the mains. Just never herd of doing it with an interlock.
  16. ghrit

    ghrit Bad company Administrator Founding Member

    The interlock is simply a device that prevents both breakers from being closed at the same time.
  17. Airtime

    Airtime Monkey+++

    Generally, yes, the interlock allows a breaker in the panel to function as a transfer switch and normally one doesn't need both.

    Many of the big solar inverters such as Outbacks have two sets of output terminals. One set is for grid tie operation of your solar/wind system. If the grid goes down, the inverters sense that and a relay drops out disconnecting the feed to the panel and hence stop pushing power back through the mains onto the grid. When the relay trips, the inverter output diverts to the second set of terminals. If these are connected to another breaker with an interlock on the main, then the solar can switch to off grid operation. The inclusion of another transfer switch allows a generator to power things without going thru the inverter stuff. Often a solar/wind system has a generator wired to the charge controllers for the batteries. This is good but if batteries are fully charged or the inverters/charge controllers have crapped out then this additional transfer switch allows you to bypass that and power the panel directly.
  18. Asia-Off-Grid

    Asia-Off-Grid RIP 11-8-2018

    Last edited by a moderator: Mar 9, 2016
  19. Bandit99

    Bandit99 Monkey+++ Site Supporter+

    Hey, AOG! Not, really but looking at it now... Wow! A 100 amp...more than enough. And, comes with transfer switch...I have save it and will give it a peek this summer when I get into the project...that isn't a bad price and would definitely cover everything I need. Thanks!
    kellory and Asia-Off-Grid like this.
  20. arleigh

    arleigh Goophy monkey

    I am on battery primarily.
    I use solar, and wind, and the grid, and a diesel gen. a gas gen. and a small engine alternator, to maintain my battery bank.
    the battery bank runs my LED lighting through out the place inside and out.
    I have 2 inverters is for AC only equipment, or the transmission of power ,for great distances.
    I heat with a wood stove exclusively ,and cook on it during the winter months, since I'm running it any way.
    I use weeds to supplement my chickens feed and twigs and branches for kindling in the stove .nothing is wasted.
    If push comes to shove and I need gas fuel I can make methane or alcohol, But I have a good reserve of many different fuels.
    I have a philosophy having been a mechanic most of my life and the biggest failure is buying small and cheap.
    Another issue is maintenance . Most small engines have no oil filter or what they have is a laugh a joke and not very efficient .
    So oil changes need to occur much more often than recommended .
    I like to change oil the moment the engine is shut down while most of the polished off particles are still in suspension in the oil.
    First oil change is with in the first 10 hours of operation.
    New rings an cylinder walls will deposit a lot of debris during this first few hours .
    Many of the ratings on generators are not completely accurate and not to be trusted no matter how much you pay.
    Newer technology using an inverter generator has a nice advantage being more efficient fuel wise . and less wear and tear on the engine as well . Still , allow for starting amperage on electric motors , the can draw more the 3 time the amp rating on the motor.
    I rebuilt air compressors and related equipment for a living and it is a serious mistake to use a generator to run an air compressor . air compressors are the hardest work to put to any motor or engine.
    If you use a lot of air, and want to continue after the grid goes down I recommend a gas engine powered air compressor.
    preferably a honda engine.
    Gator 45/70, Asia-Off-Grid and 3cyl like this.
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    Generator FAQ 2001

    Generator FAQ, By Steve Dunlop. [img]
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