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Generators - new to me

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  • Generators - new to me

    Seriously considering getting one given the increasing frequency/severity of the weather. Not looking for a whole house solution but, at least initially, a circus of extension cords to supply the appliance(s) of the moment.Thinking 8-10,000 watts (start load), 110/220 volts, electric start.
    1. There are plenty of brands; some national, others big-box store house brands. For house brands, these outfits do not stock spare parts. Are these parts generic across many brands or is it "good luck with that?"
    2. Multi-fuel? Seems to me propane might be useful (despite reduced power output) given the sporadic nature of its use. No fuel to go bad, etc. Thoughts?
    3. How should it be stored? Maintained?
    4. Given that the powerhead (generator) on many seem to be a continual source of defects (internet repair videos) should a new one be run for "x" hours under half-load (or ?) to weed out a factory defect? Wishful thinking?
    5. As a complete newbie at this any advice greatly appreciated. Thanks

  • #2
    Welcome to the "we got light" brotherhood. Before answering your questions, I'd like to start by recommending that you use an "inverter" generator. That's like a regular generator but it uses an inverter to step up the voltage to 120 (or 120/240) and keep it there very precisely. It has 3 advantages over a conventional model. 1) it can run slower when the load is low, and it's therefore much quieter. 2) it usually has a very sine wave for an output, so it will work well with any sophisticated equipment in the house. 3) Because of point #1, It uses a fraction of the fuel that a normal gas generator uses in many instances.
    To answer your questions:
    1) Many of the big box brands are simply relabeled imports. The Predator models sold by Harbor Freight ** are sold under a different name by Tractor Supply. The parts availability is about like any other imported tool.
    2) Multi fuel is nice, but keep in mind that when you run on propane or natural gas the power output goes down a bit. That's usually listed on the box.
    3) It should be stored out of the weather. In most cases, it should be run monthly. This helps to ensure that everything is working and is lubricated. If you have electric start, running it for a short time will also recharge the electric start battery.
    4) Yes, running it for a while will weed out bad units.
    5) Advice? Mine is worth every cent that you pay for it.

    ** I have a pair of the 3500 watt HF units and they have worked well EXCEPT that the batteries tend to die if you fail to run / charge them monthly. There's nothing quite like having TWO generators and both batteries go dead at the same time. The Harbor freight design can not start without a charged battery because the inverter needs electricity to start up.

    At the end of the project, there is a profound difference between spare parts and left over parts.

    Location: SF East Bay.


    • #3
      Seriously look at what you plan to power and for how long. Determine the available fuel sources you have at hand. Plan how connect the generator to the house and where the generator will be. Buy a brand name quality generator that you can resell later. I went with a 2000 watt Honda suitcase style that runs on gasoline. I also installed a 6 circuit transfer switch with a input plug outside the house near where I will use the generator. Most generators can be converted to propane or natural gas if you have that as a fuel source. Those sources are very clean with just a small loss of generator output.


      • #4
        8000 watts is a HEAP of power ! ! ! We're talking 69 amps at 115v For smaller and even some medium size homes that would be a full house option if appliances are used with some care.

        Perhaps make up a list of just what you need in a major power outage that lasts for up to a week. I'm thinking the major players would be the house heating, fridge, freezer, some limited lights and a few low power accessories like phone chargers, internet router (assuming the comm lines don't go down too) and a laptop so you can communicate.

        I'm thinking that cooking food would shift to using the BBQ a lot and breaking out the camp stove. Trying to keep the electric range going would certainly up the generator size, cost and complications needed. Washing clothes would be OK but get a folding rack to hang dry them instead of using the electric dryer.

        I'll bet that once you make up a list you find that you don't need much more than maybe 3000 to 3500 watts even allowing for motor starting surges.

        I can't see much need for 220v unless you use electric hot water heating. That would be a key feature that could drive the need for a bigger generator that can provide 220V.

        Chilliwack BC, Canada


        • #5
          Motorcyclists that winter their bikes rely on a battery tender to maintain a full float charge on the batteries without any danger of over charging them. They are about $40 last I looked and worth every penny. They can be connected and left. For an electric start backup generator I'd even go as far as to cut off the alligator clamp ends and crimp on some proper terminal ends and mount the tender right to the generator and make it a dedicated part.
          Chilliwack BC, Canada


          • #6
            With the quality of goods these days, I would go for an older type of generator with a simple regulator and a simple gas engine that could run on gasoline and propane. They may be less efficient and heavy but they are much more reliable. An old Army unit for example, will still run for many of years.
            Helder Ferreira
            Setubal, Portugal


            • #7
              For brands, I looked for a generator that had an engine from a manufacturer that had been in business for a long time, and thus there would be a parts network available.
              (Went w/ Perkins, a subsidiary of Caterpillar)

              I went with Diesel, because most of our vehicles are Diesel, and the fuel stores forever if given proper chemical treatments every year.
              Any fuel not used for hurricanes can go in the vehicles.

              The generator was sized so as to provide for the inrush current of the largest loads.
              The well pump requires 41A to start and 8A afterwards.
              The heat pump initially required 132A to start the Copeland scroll compressor, and about 11A after the start.
              I put a Micro-air soft start on the heat pump compressor, now it needs 38A to start, the generator is much happier.
              I looked for a small Diesel, better gallons per hour and more efficient under load.
              Bought a 21kw skid mounted unit for $7k, delivered.


              • #8
                I went with a Lincoln welder generator. I get more use welding with it, however it saved the day twice this winter alone as a generator. I mounted it on an old boat trailer, added a Battery Tender and keep it covered with a tarp when not in use. It gets run every four to six weeks if it hasn't been used for welding in a while. Living in the country in an all electric home makes it a necessity. Mine is gas, as I have a three hundred gallon farm tank full of non-ethanol for the tractor and other equipment.


                • #9
                  If you just want to run the fridge and the usual smaller loads, a 2k running watt generator will probably suffice. However, a 3-3,500 watt will give you plenty of overhead. An 8-10k is really going to suck some fuel, plus the initial cost is notably more and it will need a battery. If so, use a maintainer, but the batteries always seem to be a frequent point of failure and are one more thing to deal with.

                  I have several generators and a 3k will easily run my fridge, 2 freezers, plus all the other normal stuff that is ordinarily used. The only thing it likely won't run is the electric water heater (which is zero problem as it turns out - the water will stay hot enough for showers for many days), and the HVAC. If you have gas heat and can live without AC (or have a window unit), you are good to go. I have an auxiliary propane heater for emergencies, so heat is no problem. As an aside, a 20k BTU propane heater only costs about $150 and runs a long time on a BBQ sized bottle.

                  Brand name - I don't think it matters much anymore. The ubiquitous inexpensive generators mostly seem to have Honda or similar clone engines, and in my experience, they work fine. I DO suggest running it in under light load and changing the oil until you don't get 'glitter' out. You will have to tweak the frequency and voltage. My favorite little generator has automatic voltage regulation, and I just have to tweak the rpm to get the frequency right at 60hz. A cheap standalone voltage/frequency meter makes life easier and allows continuous monitoring. The cost was about $15.
                  Much to my surprise, I got spare brushes, motor mounts and a voltage regulator for something like $25 from I did this when the gen was newish, as I imagined they would be unavailable 10 years later.

                  Apparently Generac has bought out many of the smaller brands. I have not heard anyone say anything good about the Generac brand name in the last few years, and there have been many stories about them dropping parts after something like 10 years, so you are truly screwed when that proprietary board for your expensive gen craps out.

                  I do not run them periodically and have had no problems. I DO run super unleaded and Stabil 360, and when I put the generator away, I drain the tank through the float bowl drain. They always start right up years later no problem. If the gen doesn't have a fuel shutoff switch, install one. Warm them up and check the freq/volts under load before plugging anything in. A little portable electric heater makes a great adjustable load.
                  While I like the idea of being able to run off propane and will perhaps adapt one, I have had no problems at all, so I am in no rush. I store them covered in the shop, and aside from cobwebs, they all look and run like new. Our longest outage was 10 days, and back then, all we had was a super cheap Harbor Freight 3k watt unit. It did the job and it still works fine 15 years later. I use a cheap Coleman with AVR as my primary generator these days.

                  Electronics don't like the crappy sine wave, so there is a definite case to be made for the inverter generators. I specifically got UPS's that can handle it (cheap Tripp-Lite's with 2 batteries), so they will recharge off the generator. I suggest a 220v output generator. It can handle 'both sides' of the panel.
                  If I were using one frequently, like for an RV, I would absolutely get a good quality inverter gen. Where I am, we have lots of outages, but regular old cheap gensets have worked out quite well for us.
                  Last edited by Joel; 06-03-2022, 04:25 PM.
                  Location: North Central Texas


                  • #10
                    Might look at used military gensets. You can get some pretty good deals off places like govplanet if you are watching. There are generators from 3kw all the way up.


                    • #11
                      Originally posted by Dunc View Post
                      Seriously considering getting one given the increasing frequency/severity of the weather. Not looking for a whole house solution but, at least initially, a circus of extension cords to supply the appliance(s) of the moment.
                      For $2200 delivered (available for less elsewhere) Id get a (Or two for $4400) Honda EU2200i 2200w 120v portable inverter generators. JR



                      • #12
                        originally wanted one of these, but the cost, and dealing with 2200lbs., went with plan "B" instead.


                        • #13
                          Originally posted by JRouche View Post

                          For $2200 delivered (available for less elsewhere) Id get a (Or two for $4400) Honda EU2200i 2200w 120v portable inverter generators. JR

                          Inverter generators are the latest fad and the price reflects that. Regular alternator generators are what the power company uses, hospitals, military and countless other users who have sensitive electronic equipment along with standard loads. All this talk of "sine wave" from the inverter generators...... what kind of waveform do you think comes out of a alternator?


                          • #14
                            I live in the country and we have an electric co-op. I have been without power for up to 8 days. I’ve had a Winpower 3kw generator for 20+ years that until recently been good enough. I have a heat pump and propane furnace I upgraded a couple years ago with a high efficiency unit. The generator used to run the furnace on the old unit but the new one requires the outdoor unit to be on or the furnace won’t work. ☹️ January 2nd this year we lost power for 5 days due to a snow storm so I bit the bullet and bought a Generac 8kw electric start generator. I haven’t had to use it for backup yet but electric start is the way to go. My Winpower with a Wisconsin Robin engine starts on 1 pull but I’ll be 70 next month and ain’t what I used to be.
                            Things to remember about maintaining and storing generators is you want them to start first time, every time, and run well for a long time.
                            i always use ethanol free gas. I always use fuel stabilizer. When I shut the generator down I always turn the gas valve off and let the engine run till the carb is dry. If its run for a couple days, I change the oil before putting it away. I store it in the basement so it doesn’t see a lot of temperature and humidity changes so that helps eliminate problems.
                            Remember too, that the last thing you want to do is figure out why it won’t start when you need it most because it’s probably dark, wet, and cold and not ideal working conditions and She Who Must Be Obeyed is cold and cranky.
                            my $0.02
                            Edit: I have been selling industrial and construction tools and supplies for 40+ years. There are only 2 kinds of generators, good ones and cheap ones. There are very few manufacturers of generators and there are many brands. Engines are the fall in the same category. My Generac has a Chonda (Chinese Honda) knockoff. Even some Honda branded engines are made in China.
                            Last edited by Beazld; 06-03-2022, 05:54 PM.
                            Sole proprietor of Acme Buggy Whips Ltd.
                            Specialty products for beating dead horses.


                            • #15
                              Figure out what you want to run, add it together so you can run it all at once, add in a factor for new stuff and you have your generator wattage necessary. I needed to run the well pump and furnace plus a couple of range burners, lights, refrigerator, etc., so I ended up with a 8,000 watt gasoline generator. Gives me some extra capacity. It can also run the stove, dishwasher and electric dryer. But not all at the same time, and not with all of the other stuff going. It will trip if overloaded, as my wife discovered, but no harm done x just required a manual re-set.

                              If you’re considering the extension cord route, consider whether you need a generator at all. You won’t want to hook up the major stuff - well pump, furnace, range, dishwasher, dryer, water heater - via extension cords.

                              Then you have the various options of how to hook it up. Most expensive would be a totally automatic whole house system, which will start the generator and switch over when it senses a power outage. Then there are the manual options. You can feed your generator into your main breaker box or into a secondary box which feeds just a few necessary circuits. As you don’t want to back feed power into the street, you need to shut off the main breaker - this can be automatic or manual. The manual are the cheapest, and typically use a sliding plate that will not allow the main breaker and the generator breaker to be on at the same time.

                              I first installed a 50 amp outlet next to the breaker panel. I used it mainly to power my arc welder or air compressor, but if the power went out could wheel the generator around to the bulkhead door and feed it into that outlet. Remembering first to throw the main breaker, checking that the main was off before starting the generator, and checking again before throwing the breaker to that 50 amp receptacle to energize the panel. Redundant? Yes, but necessary, as I chose to go without the sliding lockout plate. I recently added a 50 amp outlet in the garage, so I no longer have to drag the generator out to the bulkhead door. Same idea in the breaker box, although on a different breaker than the other outlet. Oh, and I can now use the welder or air compressor in the garage.