Skip to comments.A Generator Thread for Preppers
Posted on 07/31/2012 4:08:41 PM PDT by Lurker
A couple of weeks ago someone on the weekly prep thread thought a post on generators might be useful to some. Now I have recently completed the biggest prep project of mine to date. Considering the recent catastrophic power grid failure in India I thought it would be a good time to share what Ive done to deal with an extended power outage at the Compound of Clan Lurker.
I wanted to be able to power my home during an extended grid failure without having to run a bunch of extension cords through open windows, etc. My criteria for a successful project was this:
1. Be able to power critical items such as refrigerator, freezer, lights, television and radios, and at least one good sized room type air conditioner.
2. Not have to run extension cords through open windows or doors.
3. Be able to take advantage of multiple fuel types so as to not be dependent on gasoline or diesel which may drastically increase in price or not be available at all.
Doesnt sound too difficult, right? Well it wasnt, really. It did, however, require quite a bit of research and a few hours of time. Now Im not saying what I did would be good for everyone to run out and do. Your circumstances are probably very different from mine and what I picked may not be appropriate for where you live, how you live, etc. Also I have NO financial relationship to any of the manufacturers whose products I purchased. None. Everything I picked is the result of my own research. I strongly recommend that you do your own research as well.
The first thing to do is pick out what you absolutely HAVE to power in your home. This is important because generators put out a finite amount of electricity which is measured in watts or amps. Most generators display the running and maximum, or surge wattage somewhere on them fairly prominently. While this information is useful, whats really important is amperage. Most mid-sized portable generators, those which range from 5,000 to 8,000 watts in output, have a 240 volt, 30 amp output on them.
That means youll need to find out how many amps each thing you want to power in your house requires to not only run, but to START as well. For instance my furnace requires only about 5 amps to run, but 9 amps to start the fan motor. You have to take this into account as all electric motors as in air conditioners, refrigerators, freezers, furnaces, etc, require more amperage to start them initially.
So step one is learn the running AND starting amps for everything you consider critical to have during a power outage. Then you can select a portable generator of the appropriate size. Yes, bigger is almost always better but theres a significant price increase as you go up. Just add up the running amps of your equipment, multiply that by 110, and you have a rough idea of the wattage youll require. OK, so dont every electrical engineer in the place jump on me at once. I said rough idea. Take the figure you come up with and get a generator the next size up. For instance I came up with about 5,000 watts, so a 5,500 watt unit fit the bill.
Getting The Power Inside:
As I said I didnt want a bunch of extension cords running in and out of windows, running across floors, up stairs, etc as this creates a safety hazard. So whats the solution? Its a piece of hardware called a transfer switch. I bought this model: Reliance 6 Circuit 30 Amp Transfer Switch.
This device connects to your home electrical system through the panel which contains the circuit breakers in your house. CAUTIONARY NOTE: While there are very good instructions and a video to help the do-it-yourself types, hiring a competent, bonded, certified, insured real live electrician would be a VERY good idea if you have the SLIGHTEST doubt in your ability to install this device yourself.
Behind that panel in your house lurks 240 volts of electrical death just waiting to grab you. So if youre not COMPLETELY confident in your abilities, write the check. I accept NO RESPONSIBILITY for crispy fried Freepers. Got that?
The device, when properly installed, isolates your home from the local electrical grid and switches the circuits youve selected to generator set. Its INCREDIBLY important that your home NOT be connected to the electrical grid when youre supplying power to it from the generator and through the panel. High voltage can leak back down the lines MILES away and give the poor guy trying to repair all those downed lines a VERY, VERY bad day. You can, and most likely WILL, be held both civilly and criminally responsible if you harm someone because you havent properly isolated your house from the grid!
OK, now that Ive scared the crap out of everybody I can tell you that I installed this device and the associated Inlet Box in under 90 minutes. The included video was extremely helpful and laid everything out in logical, consistent steps so even a Freeper could understand it.
The Inlet Box has a 30 amp male plug to which you connect one of the female ends of the 30 amp cord. The male end plugs directly into the 30 amp, 240 volt output of your generator set. The inlet box is connected to the transfer switch, which is connected directly to the main electrical panel in my house
The Fuel Dilemma:
Now youll most likely get a generator thats powered by gasoline. Mine has a 6 gallon tank and claims a 6 hour run time at 50% load. That means it will run for about 6 hours on a tank of fuel IF youre only putting out half the power that set is capable of, roughly 2750 watts in my case. Larger loads will consume fuel even faster. So I did some math:
6 X 4=24 gallons of gasoline per day. 24 x $3.50 a gallon is $85.00 to run that sucker for 24 hours. OUCH!
Whats the solution? Its called a Tri Fuel Kit. This allows your generator to run not only on gasoline, but propane, or natural gas. Now a pound of propane is roughly equivalent to a gallon of gasoline and around here a 20 pound tank refill runs about $18.00. So you can see thats significantly cheaper than gasoline. But whats even cheaper is the natural gas already coming into my home. This cool little Tri Fuel Kit also allows your generator on natural gas, which is even less expensive than propane. You can run it for literally a few bucks a day.
Now youll need to connect your gen set to the gas source somehow. Since Ive opted for a semi-permanent installation (more on that later) I purchased 50 feet of ½ rubber hose suitable for use with low pressure natural gas. This came from the same vendor as the adaptor kit. A quick connect set up on either end and I can hook it directly from my gas meter right to the regulator on the Tri Fuel Kit. Voila, Ive got fuel for a few bucks a day! Yes, its dependent on the natural gas grid, but in my area theyre by far the most reliable utility we have. And I can always go back to propane or gasoline with a flick of the fuel switch. Pretty slick!
Generators Are Loud!
Even the smallest generators are noisy little suckers. Bigger units sound like youre surrounded by The Lawnmowers of Hell. After a few hours both youll hate it and your neighbors will hate both it and YOU! So I did a little more research and happened upon this guys solution to the problem. God I love redneck McGyvers!
This is the semi-permanent part of my project that Ill be starting on in August. Mine wont be identical to his, of course. But this is definitely the general concept Im going for
OK, of all my prep stuff, this is the 2nd most expensive. Firearms are the only thing Ive spent more money on. So heres a breakdown on what Ive got into this so far and what I expect to end up having spent when I get that cool little shed put together.
Transfer Switch Kit: $275.00
Tri Fuel Adaptor: $200.00
Gas Line: $150.00
Miscellaneous Parts: $200.00
Shed: Havent bought it yet but the one Im looking at lists for $230.00 at Wally World.
Pricey? Well, yea. This is a lot of money for us but we didnt do it all in one day. Were still not done, actually. Theres that smoking cool shed for it to build yet, but I have the costs of the parts nailed down pretty well. So break the purchase down into manageable chunks. Get the generator first, that way you have it even if you do have to use extension cords. Then you can start acquiring the other items. We got the generator first, then the Transfer Switch Kit, then the Tri Fuel, and so forth. It went in some sort of logical progression for us. Yours will probably be different. Thats ok.
But the point is that if theres an extended power outage were set to run what for us are the essential electrical requirements of our home for an extended period of time without being an undue disturbance to our neighbors.
Now remember generators require maintenance and that includes actually starting them up and having them power something. This needs to be done on a regular basis according to the instructions in your owners manual. You cant just leave these things sit for a couple of years and expect them to work when you need them. So if the maintenance instructions say to start it up and power some stuff, do it. Dont shove this expensive piece of hardware in a corner of the garage and forget about it.
So during a power outage here is how our rig would work:
Shut off main breaker to house. (You cant be too careful with electricity)
Plug 30 amp cord into outlet on generator and inlet box on the house.
Hook up gas line to gas outlet on meter and inlet on regulator.
Start generator and warm up according to manufacturers instructions.
On Transfer Switch turn house circuits on ONE AT A TIME, waiting a few seconds between each one.
Check generator to make sure its running well.
Go back inside and get a cold beer from the fridge.
Get ready to meet the neighbors if you havent already. Theyre going to wonder how in the hell youre the only one in the neighborhood with electricity.
We tell them we worship Cthulu and he provides for the True Believers. They leave skidmarks.
OK I know this is a lengthy post and well longer than most of the ones on the Prepper threads here but I wanted to share what weve done to get ourselves ready in case of an extended power outage. As usual all the opinions expressed here are mine, which of course makes them absolutely beyond question.
Would you be so kind as to ping the Prepper list?
Great thread, and thanks for posting. BTT.
I’ve got a bit more money, so I’ve been looking at the more permanent generator solution. The one thing though I would really want is to be able to easily swap from Propane to natural gas. I can get a generator with kits to swap back and forth, and maybe that would be good enough.
My idea is to get a large propane tank buried in my yard, but run the generator on my natural gas (which is, as you said, generally very reliable).
The generator I have in mind is I think from GE, and comes with everything. IT does an automatic switch, and switch back, when power goes out. It is a “smart” system that will allow you to have more total equipment than it can run, and will prioritize so if your A/C needs to run for a while, it will switch off something else until the A/C turns off (like if you had an electric clothes dryer).
My house is mostly natural gas anyway. The point of propane is that if things get REALLY bad, and the gas goes, I’ll still have power. Then I’ll need to equip my heater with electric coils, so if the natural gas goes, I can run it on an electric heat emergency setting.
Unfortunately, we don’t lose power often enough to push me to action.
You’re quite welcome. If there are any questions I’ll be happy to answer them here to the extent that I can. Just realize that I are not an electrical engineer or a plumber.
I’m strictly a Big Box store handyman, not a professional.
I think you missed something important...
Generators come in 2 varieties. (3 actually but the third is of no consequence)
Cheaper units run at 3600 rpm. The more expensive ones run at 1800 rpm. The necessary speed of the engine is determined by the number of “poles” in the generator.
The units used in motor-homes are almost always 1800 rpm. There are two reasons for that; First, they are much quieter. Second, the life span of the engine is much much longer. If this is a generator that is going to be run 24 hours a day, you do NOT want one that runs at 3600 rpm - period.
The 1800 rpm units are more expensive because the engine has to be larger, but you really have no choice here.
Thank you very much. I have saved this and am going to start putting things together. Thanks again for making it as easy as you could for a non electrician but an experienced do it yourselfer..
Our grid has been pretty darned reliable around here, too. But... you never know. Perhaps if you look at a smaller investment the cost/benefit ration would look a bit different and you'd be more inclined to get "good enough".
I'd sleep a lot better if we had one of those GE units, but getting one of sufficient size and having it professionally installed would be about 5 times what I've got into our solution. I just can't swing that now or in the near future.
The Tri Fuel kit is really, really slick. I have very minimal small engine knowledge and I was able to install mine in about 2 hours. And it works just fine.
Best of luck to you.
I’m not sold on his enclosure setup for hot weather, but you could always open the doors if it was running too hot.
“1. Be able to power critical items such as refrigerator, freezer, lights, television and radios, and at least one good sized room type air conditioner.”
You may want to look into propane or kerosene refers/freezers, as they can run on next to nothing, and have to require you to fire up a generator for that capability.
Well I know I’ve learned something today. Thank you.
You’re welcome and thank you.
Like I said, everyone’s situation is different. In your case my rig would be inappropriate. I hope your information can help someone else.
“Now a pound of propane is roughly equivalent to a gallon of gasoline and around here a 20 pound tank refill runs about $18.00.”
Sorry, not true. If I had to estimate, I’d say a it would take 10 pounds of propane to equal ONE gallon of gas. I’ll check now.
I think your equivalence on propane is way off.
1 gallon of propane = 4.2 pounds @ 60F.
1 gallon of propane = 84,300 btus
1 gallon of gasoline = 114,100 btus
so a 20 pound propane tank is 20/4.2 = 4.76 gallons
equivalent to 4.76 X (84300/114100) = 3.5 gallons gasoline
Thanks to both of you. I knew smarter folks than I would find the holes. I appreciate the sharp eyes.
Here are some numbers:
“Now a pound of propane is roughly equivalent (in energy) to a gallon of gasoline...”
Propane: 1 pound = 21,500 BTU
Gasoline: 1 gallon = 125,000 BTU
Diesel: 1 gallon = 139,200 BTU
So 1 gallon of gasoline has about 6 times the energy content of propane, and Diesel has even more energy than gasoline.
I misunderestimated the low density of Propane or I would have been closer.
“Thanks to both of you. I knew smarter folks than I would find the holes. I appreciate the sharp eyes.”
Any time - that’s what make this such a cool website.
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