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Home Generators (or How DTE Energy Ruined My Holidays)

CmdrTaco posted more than 5 years ago | from the can't-feel-my-toes dept.

Power 695

We are among the thousands without power in the northeast. Day four actually, and we've decided to look into generators so that next year's New Year's doesn't involve fears of frozen pipes bursting and hypothermic babies and cats. At the very least we just need enough juice to run the furnace blower, but if we're going to lay down the cash I'd like to know what it would take to get a little more power ... like enough to run a fridge, router, laptop and lightbulb. I know nothing about this sort of thing, but figure there are more than a few experts out there so I call out to the wisdom of the mob. What am I looking for? How difficult is the wiring? What will it cost me? On the extreme edge, what would it take to get off the grid entirely? (And on a side note, thanks to DTE Energy for telling us we had power when we didn't, for losing the ticket for our neighborhood, for telling us it would be back every single day when it wasn't, and for the helpful DTE representative who warned us that our pipes might burst. Thanks.)

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tips (4, Informative)

fyngyrz (762201) | more than 5 years ago | (#26282445)

At a minimum, you need:

  • A fair amount of 14- or 12-gauge wire (wire is expensive... go measure)
    • wire from generator switch breaker to each device
    • wire from generator to generator switch (needs to be underground / outdoors rated)
    • wire from main service to generator switch
    • instructions are generally with generator switch - study hard. Errors can be disastrous
  • A 15A or 20A socket at each power location (fridge, furnace)
  • A manual generator to line switch ($150 or so on Ebay)
  • A generator. I suggest MINIMUM 3500 watts
    Even though a furnace doesn't pull a lot when running, at the time that the blower starts up, there can be a VERY large startup current. The fridge the same, to a lesser extent.
  • A shed -- you can't put a gas generator indoors, generally speaking - very dangerous
  • I strongly suggest a strong table to mount the generator on for maintenance
  • Some way to bolt the table down, and bolt the generator to the table
  • High temperature exhaust hose for the generator (actually kind of difficult to come by)
  • high-temperature pass through for exhaust to go thru shed wall - hot!

You can get a lot fancier than this, but this will function perfectly as long as you are there to do the switching soon enough after power fails that your building doesn't get too close to pipe-freeze (I wouldn't want to go below 40 degrees f, pipes are often in walls that are cooler than the rest of the house.)

If that won't do, you're looking at an auto-start system with an auto-generator switchover, and the only thing I can tell you about that is prepare your wallet for deep excavation.

Re:tips (5, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26282657)

No way man - you don't need anything nearly that complicated. Since you're just covering an occasional power outage, you don't need anything permanent. Just put the generator outdoors, and run a long extension cord (or a few) inside.

Make sure the generator is in a locked location, or at least chained down. They have a tendency to sprout legs during emergencies.

If you want something permanently in place, you need an electrician, and no less. Because you need a huge On-Off-On lever switch to ensure you never attempt to power the house from both the generator and grid simultaneously.

Re:tips (5, Informative)

MightyMartian (840721) | more than 5 years ago | (#26282677)

I just ran heavy (15amp rated) extension cords this year when our power went out. I'm wiring up my shed this spring, so I'll already have a back ho out digging the ditch to run the underground wire, so I'm going to run a spare three pole 10-gauge direct burial (will cost some bucks) along with the main run out to the shed. I'll wire up a few outlets around my house that connect specifically to the generator (which is an el-cheapo Walmart 3500 watt gas unit), because a) the generator ain't big enough to power my panel and b) to do so in my neck of the woods requires a cut off so you're not rendering your incoming power line hot.

A bit of advice I got when I bought the generator was that you don't need to run your fridge and freezer all the time, providing you open them infrequently. Every few hours just plug them in, let the compressors bring the temperature down, and then unplug them. At the very least, don't keep the fridge door open while you ponder whether to use hot mustard or not. As you say, many electrical devices that don't draw a lot of power while in use can draw a lot of power at startup (cranking is I think the technical name). Even TVs can draw considerable juice when you first turn them on, so you probably will not want to put all your devices and appliances on a power bar and then flip the switch, but rather turn on each device one at a time.

Another thing my manual makes very clear is that the generator should be properly grounded. I didn't do that this year, but as I said, when I wire up my shed, I'm going to have to use a grounding rod anyways (since I'm putting in a subpanel) so I'll just bond the generator to that. 20 amps and 120 volts is enough to cook you good in the right circumstances.

Re:tips (4, Informative)

Muad'Dave (255648) | more than 5 years ago | (#26282685)

I wouldn't go the route of running all that extra wire. They sell 6 circuit generator switches [] for that exact purpose - you move the desired circuits from your main panel into this little box, and hook you generator to it via a standard twistlock connector on a flexible cord. When the power fails, roll the genny to the panel, plug it in, fire it up, and flip the switch. If you know evil weather is coming, pre-stage the genny and cover it with a barbecue grill cover until you have to fire it up. Once it's hot, rain and snow won't bother it.

Re:tips (4, Informative)

InlawBiker (1124825) | more than 5 years ago | (#26282737)

I've gone through enough power outages to do what you're wanting. This is a good list but I can simplify it a bit.

1. You'll need a transfer switch to connect your generator into your home's wiring. It is possible (but probably illegal) to back-feed your generator into your home. Improper backfeeding will send power back up the line, creating a danger to the line workers.

A transfer switch essentially allows your generator to become the power source to your home while cutting off your city power. You can do this yourself or hire an electrician, it's not real expensive. Here's a simple diagram [] .

2. Next figure out what size generator to get. There are many calculators out there to guide you. Essentially you add up the wattage of each appliance and buy a generator with about 20% extra.

An example, I have a 3000w generator, it runs 2 fridges, the gas furnace fan, most of the lights, maybe some music. It's very quiet and luggable. We turn off lights when not in use and leave the TV off, but could probably run it.

Depending on how close your neighbors are you might want to check the decibel level of your gen-set. The cheapo ones work great but are very loud.

Re:tips (2, Informative)

Cornwallis (1188489) | more than 5 years ago | (#26282743)

This guy is going to get a lot of people killed. Mount a generator on a table? High temperature exhaust hose for the generator (actually kind of difficult to come by)

Automatic Transfer Switches (3, Informative)

hAckz0r (989977) | more than 5 years ago | (#26282795)

When you wire in your core devices that need continued power it is good to use a set of automatic transfer switches. When the grid power is up the electricity flows like normal, but when the generator us up the switches divert the inputs for those devices to the generator. When your power comes back up you simply turn off the generator and everything goes back to normal. If you buy the expensive whole house generator models they should come with this equipment, but you can buy them at your local hardware store, or eBay, for the low end generators. Having everything pre-wired saves a lot of fumbling around in the dark playing with kinked cords and potential high voltage, and a lot fewer headaches. No more pulling all refrigerators out just to plug them into the generator any more. Been there, done that. What I have that needs power has it as soon as I turn the key and pull the cord.

Re:tips (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26282827)

Wow, this guy doesn't seem to know what he is talking about when he mentions running separate circuits. There are a couple of ways to wire a generator that make a lot more sense:

1. Separate sub panel connected to the main panel either through a manual or automatic transfer switch. Manual means you have to manually switch over to the generator and then back, or pay more for the automatic type. Transfer switch sits in between the sub panel and the main breaker and switches the power source between the panel and the generator. You would move the circuits for important stuff that you wanted on the generator into this sub panel. This is why you don't need to run entirely new circuits. Also consider the confusion of having multiple outlets for the same appliances, the effort of trying to run wire through closed walls and the pain in the ass of having to unplug your appliances and plug them into the other outlets. Sounds complex when you can do it all at the panel with a single switch.

2. Full panel transfer switch. This switches the power source between the power company and the generator. These also come in manual and automatic types. This works best with larger generators since trying to power your house with a small one is just going to result in the generator's circuit breaker tripping if you exceed its power output.

Re:tips (4, Informative)

hardie (716254) | more than 5 years ago | (#26282861)

"I know nothing about this sort of thing.."
I strongly advise having someone who does do the installation.
You *must* have a switch that disconnects your house from your service drop. This is not a small switch--typical would be a 100A disconnect. If you don't, your generator will feed the service and present a huge danger to the people trying to restore your power. Ours allows the house to be powered off of either the generator or the utility, with no way for the utility and generator to be connected.

We bought an 8kW generator when we moved to Maine five years ago. My first thought was to buy a larger unit, but there's a problem with this idea. Compare fuel consumption fully loaded and at half load. IIRC, half load still consumes about 3/4 of the full load fuel. Generators become much less efficient at low loads--this means that you want to size it right, not oversize it. Running a generator isn't cheap.

I added up what we would typically have running and I think I came up with 4 or 5 kW. Bumping it up to 8kW seemed reasonable. Everything runs fine except the microwave (which acts browned out), and I don't use my plasma cutter or arc welder when we're on generator.


Re:tips (1)

Pyromancer66 (958591) | more than 5 years ago | (#26282879)

The simplest thing you can do is to back-feed one of your appliance breakers as a temporary solution. You will need to run some 10 or 8 gauge wire from your generator into one of the appliance breakers. To switch from your utility to the generator you simply open your main breaker and close the appliance breaker you used. To return to your utility once the power is restored you open the appliance breaker on and close your main breaker. This is not a permanent solution but works well in these kinds of situations.

Re:tips (1)

Relayman (1068986) | more than 5 years ago | (#26283123)

If both breakers are on at the same time, this suggestion will allow voltage to go back to the distribution system. You can kill electrical workers this way because the transformers work both ways and you could be putting 13 kV on the distribution lines. I think manslaughter charges would be appropriate for someone who did this.

A transfer switch is designed so that the generator power can never be sent back to distribution.

By the way, when we had a major power outage in Cincinnati in September, the word on the street was that Duke Energy would not work on restoring power if they heard any generators running (believe me, when the power's out, you can hear them for at least a block). So keep close to your generator so you can turn it off when the utility workers show up.

Re:tips here best for ya (1)

arbiter1 (1204146) | more than 5 years ago | (#26282981)

i was without power for 36 hours and we have a 5000 watt generator with 2x 120 volt plugs and 2 220volt. ur best option is get an external plug like in garage for 220 volt so you can hook the generator up and it will provide power to the whole house. NOW keep in mind you have to watch how much you run cause say you got a well and a water pump that can draw quite a bit, in our case its a 220volt so, then you got fridges and etc. when you do run the generator using a male to male plug you have to turn off the main on your power box so the power you get form the generator is not sent out on the lines to other house's.

Re:tips here best for ya (1)

arbiter1 (1204146) | more than 5 years ago | (#26283069)

2ndly if you do use a male-to-male to plug in to a wall outlet to get power in ur house, DO NOT use a plug with a GFI it don't allow power to go that way

Tips (1)

zippy40 (737906) | more than 5 years ago | (#26283051)

You need at a minimum a 5000 kw generator to run fridge, freezer, lights, and blower. You may could even run an electric water heater by itself. Since you are not familiar with electrical wiring, find a licensed electrician to install a transfer switch with a receptical to hook up the generator.

Re:tips (3, Informative)

gavinsgramma (1442317) | more than 5 years ago | (#26283061)

We purchased a Natural Gas powered from a store here called Farm and Fleet. It has it's own breaker box and it automatically switches over to generator with in short period of time after the power goes, there is some delay since our power sometimes just flickers. It also kicks off when the power returns. It powers all of our refrigerators, freezers sump pumps, furnace pump, some lights and of course the computer equipment. You can get them to power the entire house. Ours was about $1700. for the generator and another $1000. to install. It works well. You can also get them to run off of LP gas if you do not have access to natural gas. When they installed they ran wire from the main box to the generator box so you do not have to run wire that far.

Some thoughts (3, Funny)

Tubal-Cain (1289912) | more than 5 years ago | (#26282473)

I'd like to know what it would take to get a little more power... like a fridge

This coming from the can't-feel-my-toes department? Put it outside!

router, laptop and a lightbulb.

Laptop first. It is marginally useful without the router. The router is useless without the laptop or some other computer. It also provides all the light you should need (though maybe not all your wife needs)

I suggest you go and get a small generator immediately. Murphy's Law (or something like it) demands that power be back on before you get home or immediately after you get it hooked up.

Re:Some thoughts (4, Funny)

gbjbaanb (229885) | more than 5 years ago | (#26282511)

This coming from the can't-feel-my-toes department? Put it outside!

This coming from the order-of-importance dept: cold beer, internet, all other stuff.

Re:Some thoughts (1)

frosty_tsm (933163) | more than 5 years ago | (#26283037)

I think they are all set as far as the ice-cold beer goes.

Taco.... (-1, Flamebait)

Neil Blender (555885) | more than 5 years ago | (#26282483)

Why do you think anyone gives two shits about your power outage?

And if you don't want your pipes to burst, there is a simple solution - you let your water drip at the farthest faucets from the main line.

Dude... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26282569)

To paraphrase Tank,

It's his blog, he can do what he wants with it.

howareyoutyping tag (5, Funny)

Junior J. Junior III (192702) | more than 5 years ago | (#26282523)

This is CmdrTaco -- he's saving electricity by turning off the spellchecker to conserve power, while running off of battery backup. Obviously.

Pipes bursting (5, Informative)

Shimmer (3036) | more than 5 years ago | (#26282529)

Might be best to turn off the water entirely and drain the pipes rather than risk a burst.

Re:Pipes bursting (2, Informative)

Nuitari The Wiz (1123889) | more than 5 years ago | (#26282619)

Actually this is much worse as your risk having the pipes connecting the house to the aqueduc burst.

The best way is to have a small thread of water running from a faucet, for both the hot and cold water taps. Depending on the layout of the plumbing there might be a need for 2 or 3 faucets to be running.

Re:Pipes bursting (1)

jammindice (786569) | more than 5 years ago | (#26282779)

But without electricity how would your water pump run when you are out of water pressure? and if you were in a neighborhood with city water i would drain the pipes and use a faucet in the basement with a drain to keep the water moving instead of having faucets running everywhere.

Re:Pipes bursting (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26282871)

All those who see an ice buildup forming in the drain pipes and eventually blocking the path used by the leaking faucet water say "aye!" Also, if this continues for several days, your water heater will not be saved by a slowly dripping faucet. Kersplash.

For a lot of Northeastern houses, the water hookup is in a basement, which generally maintains enough residual ground heat to be fine, especially if you simply wrap the line before the drain point.

What device are you using to post this message? (1)

DigitalReverend (901909) | more than 5 years ago | (#26282539)

I have to ask, because it is beautifully spaced, with few or no spelling errors. I have to assume that since the power is out, that it's not a computer. Did you post in Plain Old Text or was your message HTML Formatted? I just have to know. Also how are you keeping it charged? Are the regular phones working in your area? If the battery dies on whatever device you are using, are you able to make emergency calls?

Re:What device are you using to post this message? (1)

Sir_Lewk (967686) | more than 5 years ago | (#26282691)

Sorry, but my bet is he probably isn't doing much reading of comments right now. (more so than usual...)

As a DTE Stockholder... (5, Funny)

hargrand (1301911) | more than 5 years ago | (#26282541)

... I object to your derrogatory and inflamatory efforts to drive my net asset value down.

As a DTE Customer... (3, Funny)

frosty_tsm (933163) | more than 5 years ago | (#26283109)

... I object to your insistent and endless efforts to drive my home value down and to give hypothermia to my cat.

Low-amp thermoelectric? (2, Informative)

Just Some Guy (3352) | more than 5 years ago | (#26282551)

A lot of people in cold climates have backup (or even primary) wood stoves for heat. The main problem is that these have electric fans to blow super-hot air from around the stove's inner box into the room. Now, given that it's cold outside when you're building fires and very hot inside the stove itself, is there some way to directly convert the heat difference into enough electricity to drive the stove's fan?

Seriously, these things can potentially put out tremendous amounts of heat, probably enough to keep the pipes from freezing in a medium-sized house and certainly enough to cook simple foods. I'd think that a self-powered version would be extremely appreciated.

Re:Low-amp thermoelectric? (2, Informative)

corsec67 (627446) | more than 5 years ago | (#26282649)

A lot of people in cold climates have backup (or even primary) wood stoves for heat.

In Colorado, the only kind of wood stoves that I have seen that use electricity are pellet stoves [] , whereas wood stoves don't need any power at all. You just put logs in, get them burning, and that is it. Are you talking about a wood burning whole house furnace with forced air? That isn't exactly a "wood stove".

My family primarily uses wood to heat the house, with trees we cut down from the neighbors property. The forest here is significantly overpopulated, so a lot of the trees need cutting down anyways.

Re:Low-amp thermoelectric? (1)

speroni (1258316) | more than 5 years ago | (#26282869)

My brother in law retro-fit a wood burning furnace on to his 100 year old house's existing hot-water radiator heat.

Re:Low-amp thermoelectric? (1)

Just Some Guy (3352) | more than 5 years ago | (#26282895)

Are you talking about a wood burning whole house furnace with forced air?

Nope. I'm talking about a wood stove [] , either free-standing or set into a fireplace. You start the fire then adjust the damper and air vents to control how quickly the wood burns, and the blowers remove what would otherwise be a dangerous amount of heat into the surrounding room. My parents have two of these in different living rooms and one in the basement. When you have it tweaked right and the fans running on full blast, you can't stand to be within several feet of it for more than a minute or two. They normally use just one of the stoves and set the house furnace to 50 degrees or so; it never kicks in.

Re:Low-amp thermoelectric? (1)

u38cg (607297) | more than 5 years ago | (#26282701)

IANAT, but that sounds like a job for a Stirling Engine.

Re:Low-amp thermoelectric? (3, Interesting)

Agripa (139780) | more than 5 years ago | (#26282709)

is there some way to directly convert the heat difference into enough electricity to drive the stove's fan

Thermally driven fans are available for wood stoves. The ones I have seen mount inline with the exhaust pipe and use the thermal temperature difference to operated the fan but stove mounted ones for just circulating air around the stove are available also.

Re:Low-amp thermoelectric? (1)

autocracy (192714) | more than 5 years ago | (#26282899)

The fan is just a "nice touch" that distributes the heat faster. If your power is out, using it without the fan will be fine.

This is also a great time to have kids. Hand them paper fans. ;)

Re:Low-amp thermoelectric? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26282923)

One word, Thermocouple.

Re:Low-amp thermoelectric? (1)

potat0man (724766) | more than 5 years ago | (#26282949)

What? You mean like this [] ?

I just finished something similar (5, Informative)

Muad'Dave (255648) | more than 5 years ago | (#26282555)

I just built a new house, and had a 20kW Generac air-cooled generator [] installed along with a 200A automatic transfer switch and buried 1,000 gallon propane tank. It can run on propane or natural gas, and is manly enough to run my whole house. I have heat pumps with backup propane furnaces. The outside units are small enough so that I do not have to sequence the startup of the compressors, but I could do that if necessary (and may anyway). It self-tests once a week. All told, minus the tank (since many/most of you will have NG service), about $8,000 installed and tested. Well worth it for totally automatic, no-worries switchover even if we're away.

Re:I just finished something similar (1)

linzeal (197905) | more than 5 years ago | (#26282863)

I agree, my mother just got something like that in her retirement house and it is easy enough for her to maintain. These 500-800 dollar setups for backup power are nice when needed and better than nothing but if you are without power for up to a week invest in a more robust solution.

Re:I just finished something similar (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26283031)

Make sure you test that system at least twice a year. We have a similar setup where I work and we test is quarterly. I have been shocked at how much maintenance is required. They are nice when they work though.

Natural gas backup generator (5, Informative)

Wonko the Sane (25252) | more than 5 years ago | (#26282557)

Bottom line: Permanent home backup generators can be purchased for $3000 - $6000 + installation labor.

If you have natural gas available then I highly recommend using it for your backup generator, since outages are very rare and you won't ever need to worry about storing fuel.

If you house is like most, then your incoming service is 100 amp/220 split-phase. This means that a ~22 KW generator would give you 100% backup, but really most people don't use more than 80% of their service, so this setup [] should provide full capacity backup for almost anyone. If that's not enough, then move up to the 30 KW model. Kohler makes generators big enough to power your entire neighborhood if you are willing to buy it.

Wiring is not difficult, but depending on your experience level and your desire to obey the local electrical code, you should consider hiring a licensed electrician.

Re:Natural gas backup generator (2, Informative)

zarthrag (650912) | more than 5 years ago | (#26282629)

In addition, these types of generators (in the 10kw and under range) can even run on propane in the super rare event of a gas outage - ours accepts dual propane tanks and can run 12 hrs - not that we've ever needed to resort to that.

A couple of comments about having them... (4, Informative)

mykepredko (40154) | more than 5 years ago | (#26282819)

Just a comment - we've had a Kohler 15kW Natural Gas powered generator that automatically comes on if power is interrupted for more than 10 seconds for the past year. We've needed it a couple of times now for multi-hour interruptions and it's worked well with the following comments:
1. Get an electrician that knows what he's doing and has experience with automated generators. I spelled out how everything was supposed to be wired and the bozo our contractor hired didn't trust my work beforehand and refused to wire up things like our refrigerator because he thought it drew too much current and then didn't believe my calculations
2. When you look at different generators, you will see that going to a water cooled unit (which is generally what you get when you are in the 22kW range) doubles the price. The 15kW units don't power the whole house, but more than enough to be liveable - you should get your Furnace, Air Conditioning (power goes out in the summer too), kitchen, basic computers & internet service, a couple of bedrooms and a TV/etc. working comfortably
3. The generators need maintenance. Plan on $500 or more a year - you can't do this yourself unless you are licensed for working around natural gas.
4. The units will test themselves once a week. Make sure they come on when nobody's going to be bothered
5. Don't try to do it yourself, the installation is somewhat expensive ($1,500-$2,000) and then you have to do the interior wiring (hooking up the Automated Transfer Switch (ATS) and deciding which circuits should be used).
6. The pricing of the units change during the year and what's going on. Right now would probably be the worst possible time to buy one - I wouldn't be surprised that their prices haven't doubled in your area. You should be looking in the late spring before hurricane season is the best.


Re:A couple of comments about having them... (2, Informative)

Wonko the Sane (25252) | more than 5 years ago | (#26283039)

The 15kW units don't power the whole house, but more than enough to be liveable - you should get your Furnace, Air Conditioning (power goes out in the summer too), kitchen, basic computers & internet service, a couple of bedrooms and a TV/etc. working comfortably

That would depend on exactly how your house is configured. Heating, water heater, clothes dryer and stove could be gas or electric. If all of those were gas, then 15 KW should be more than enough for all your other loads.

If you take your electric bill and divide kilowatt-hours by the number of hours in the billing cycle then you would get your average consumption. That would be a good starting point when you decide on a generator rating.

How about getting it NOW? (2, Insightful)

plasmacutter (901737) | more than 5 years ago | (#26282563)

Home improvement stores, meijer, wal-mart, et-al are still open right now.

Go there, get one, get gas, bingo.

Why "next year"?

Re:How about getting it NOW? (1)

TheMeuge (645043) | more than 5 years ago | (#26282595)

Insightful and PRACTICAL +1

Honda makes some great generators... 3-4kW should be sufficient for your purposes.

However, you should also look at where you're losing your heat. If you insulate your home well, you'll have to heat it a lot less in the winter, which is very relevant, if you're going to be doing it with a generator.

Re:How about getting it NOW? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26282761)

FWIW, I have been pricing generators and Honda units are WAY more expensive than other brands. The only thing I can figure is that they are quieter, and that's about it. We're talking $800 for a 1kw honda unit vs. $400 for a 3.5kw unit from somewhere like lowe's.

Re:How about getting it NOW? (2, Informative)

TheMeuge (645043) | more than 5 years ago | (#26282839)

They are very reliable, and like you mentioned they are SIGNIFICANTLY quieter than the competition. If you have to have it rumbling overnight, the difference may be enough to warrant spending more. Also, be careful with power ratings, as they can be PEAK or MEAN. A 1kw honda could probably push >0.8kw all night. A 3.5kw (peak) no-name brand may not actually be able to do that.

I recommend Honda because a number of people I know have recommended them highly. Ultimately, that's my major source of information, as I do not own one myself.

Re:How about getting it NOW? (1)

Dan Ost (415913) | more than 5 years ago | (#26283131)

In my experience, the Honda generators are so quiet that you can't hear them when you're inside. The cheaper units sound like a lawn mower.

Depending on your neighbors (or city noise ordinances), it might be worth paying a bit extra for the Honda generator.

Re:How about getting it NOW? (1)

Tubal-Cain (1289912) | more than 5 years ago | (#26282627)

Why "next year"?

Because he wants a permanent solution. (which likely will take more than a day to get installed)

Natural Gas Generator? (1)

MarkvW (1037596) | more than 5 years ago | (#26282581)

My dad lives in rural Michigan. He's got a natural gas generator. It powers the important circuits. It has worked wonderfully (over several years) when the electricity has failed. Sorry, I don't know much about hookup mechanics.

mmmmm... (4, Funny)

religious freak (1005821) | more than 5 years ago | (#26282589)

hypothermic babies and cats

mmmmmm, frozen tacos - yum


Natural (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26282609)

I'm going to start building a house in 2010. I've looked at many different ways I could have reliable power backup and this seems to be the best idea for a residential setup.

Re:Natural (1)

Muad'Dave (255648) | more than 5 years ago | (#26282851)

Don't piddle around, do it right. See this post [] .

If you do choose the model you linked to, note that it says 'liquid propane', which requires different regulators and plumbing than generators that run on vapor.

Depending on where you live, there are electricians (like Master Electrical here in Richmond) that'll do it all from installation, hookup, and the gas work (they have folks with both gas and electrical licenses).

Make sure you size the genny for startup and inrush current - motors can pull 3x their running current at startup.

Lastly, I couldn't tell from the HD link, but try to get an air-cooled model. They're easier to service and there's no worry about coolant leaks and freezing. They're a bit more fuel efficient, too.

Good luck!

Dammit, Randall! (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26282611)

Get out of my head!

The dirty way (5, Informative)

ShooterNeo (555040) | more than 5 years ago | (#26282613)

There's a dirty, and illegal way to do it.

First, if you follow these instructions, remember this KEY STEP
                  TURN OFF THE MAIN SWITCH. Also, NEVER turn that main switch on if the generator is running.
                  Finally, the main switch MUST be double throw.

Forget to follow these instructions, and you can very easily kill a lineman or blow up your generator.

Anyways, you just need a three pronged dryer plug, 2 of them, and sufficient length of heavy gauge wire. You create an illegal male - male 3 pronged plug, and connect your generator socket into the 3 pronged plug in your house used for the clothes dryer.

The reason it is illegal is because this form of installation does not prevent you from connecting your generator to the wiring outside your house. If you left the main switch on, you can energize the dead lines outside with 12,000 volts and kill a lineman.

The advantage? As long as the main switch is double throw, and you don't turn it on when the generator is connected, it is pretty safe. And cheap : a double throw switch and circuit box is $200-$500, while this method can be done for $10.

Re:The dirty way (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26282845)

Lineman use shorting leads when working on power lines. they would actually trust YOU not to kill them!!

Re:The dirty way (1)

ShooterNeo (555040) | more than 5 years ago | (#26283047)

I know. Personally, if I had a generator, and it wasn't too high a wattage, I would probably use this technique. A double throw switch can cost as much as a small generator!

My recommendations (5, Informative)

rongage (237813) | more than 5 years ago | (#26282621)

The first thing you want is a natural gas powered generator, not gasoline. Nothing like having to take a trip to the local gas station (presuming THEY have power) to fill up the generator every 8 hours or so. This, by definition, will make the generator a stationary unit (not on wheels, designed to be bolted down to a concrete pad).

Next, you want a generator with auto-start, auto-transfer with manual return. You want the thing to automatically kick in if the power dies, but YOU should be in control of when it decides to return to the grid. Nothing like finding out that the power died 10 minutes after you and the family left the house for a couple of days and coming back to a cold house with no power and potentially burst pipes.

Wattage - you will want at least a 5000 watt unit for whole-house use. Forget this idea of running power cords everywhere - unless you like the idea of tripping over power cords everywhere. With the transfer switch mentioned above, the generator takes the place of the grid so your internal house wiring will continue to serve it's duty.

There are several manufacturers of house generator systems. You can find low-end units at places like Home Depot or Lowes. Better units are best obtained from an electrical wholesale house.

Do yourself a huge favor here and hire a licensed electrician to do the work. It'll get done right the first time, the electrical inspector won't get excited (in a negative way) when he sees the work, and the odds of "something going wrong" go way down.

From another guy in Michigan (Westland)...

Depends how hardcore you want to be... (2, Interesting)

Gordonjcp (186804) | more than 5 years ago | (#26282645)

... but I'd look at surplus "permanent" diesel generators, and a dedicated genny shed. These will often be much, much cheaper than a new, smaller generator. Also, older kit tends to have been built well to begin with, and with repair and maintenance in mind - something that a lot of el-cheapo Chinese 80-quid-out-of-Lidl generators aren't.

If you buy a seriously large genny you may be able to split the costs with your neighbours - 30kW ought to do at least a couple of houses if you're careful. Ten years ago we used to have very frequent power cuts up north, and one enterprising chap bought a 10kW genny on a trailer which he towed round to people's houses every day to freeze their freezers for a small fee ;-)

I wouldn't bother with petrol-engined gennies - they're far more trouble than they're worth and will just plain not start when you need them. They also need constant servicing even when they're not used, and you need to keep fresh fuel in them - so that means either buying fuel and keeping the tank and carb dry (just what you need to sort out on a cold dark night), or running them pretty much every month enough to use a few gallons of petrol. Stick with diesels, they're simpler, easier to work on, and more reliable anyway.

It goes without saying that if you live in an area prone to power cuts, you should avoid electric heating and electric cookers. Don't run an electric cooker off the genny, it will guzzle fuel. If you have an electric cooker, get a petrol camping stove like one of the Coleman dual-burner ones, or a gas camping stove. A caravan/RV stove would be good, but will take up more space. I used to use a single-burner gas stove which took disposable gas bottles like large spray cans, but it was uneconomic to run. My petrol stove was quite expensive to buy, but much, *much* cheaper to run - plus if I run out of fuel I can just pump some from my car ;-)

You may be able to run your furnace blower from a large inverter, but they are typically not rated to run inductive loads for long. In the UK, we use small efficient blower motors in most boilers, which will run off a couple of hundred watts at most. The big old blowers with a squirrel-cage motor the size of a beer keg are long gone, something to be glad of ;-)

Re:Depends how hardcore you want to be... (1)

Muad'Dave (255648) | more than 5 years ago | (#26282901)

Diesel turns into Vaseline in very cold weather, and it's smelly and messy. I'd stick to propane or NG. I just ditched a fuel oil furnace, and I say good riddance.

Re:Depends how hardcore you want to be... (1)

drspliff (652992) | more than 5 years ago | (#26283129)

Alternatively you can get a big coal burning cooker-range, on a few occasions when we were living out in the country and the power went out, we'd either not notice it or all huddle down in the kitchen sleeping next to the dogs in the warm glow of the rayburn.

Keep it simple (1)

ZeroPly (881915) | more than 5 years ago | (#26282655)

I asked the same question a couple of years ago and got enough information to write a book.

In the end, I bought a 3500W generator that I can pick up and carry, and made two extension cords with male ends on both sides.

When the power goes out, I turn off the main breaker, carry the generator to the porch, and fire it up. I hook up one extension cord to each side of the house, and voila, I have computers, Internet, TV, and microwave. Every few hours I look down the street and see if the other houses have their power back. I don't bother calling the electric company.

There are undoubtedly many union electricians gasping in horror after reading this, but it works great and cost me a total of about $500 to implement.

Re:Keep it simple (2, Insightful)

Muad'Dave (255648) | more than 5 years ago | (#26282953)

How's your 'negligent homicide' insurance for when you fry a lineman when you forget and turn the main breaker back on with the generator running? Is it worth the extra $500 to get a real transfer switch? Plus, you'll know when the utility power is back when the rest of the house comes alive.

Re:Keep it simple (0, Flamebait)

ZeroPly (881915) | more than 5 years ago | (#26283049)

I've dealt with AmerenUE people. And no, their lives are not worth the extra $500 to me.

You need to get the stick out of your ass. How about just remembering to turn the generator off before turning the main breaker on? Does that kind of make sense or are you stupid enough that you don't trust yourself and need a $500 switch?


u38cg (607297) | more than 5 years ago | (#26283107)

Make sure your mains switch is double throw; some just open the live side. If this is the case, the guy who is trying to patch your power lines back together will die when you fire up your generator. Power companies get snarky about householders killing their staff.

Fuck you Malda. (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26282679)

Hope you and your ugly whore of a wife freeze to death.

Passive house heating (5, Informative)

Cyclopedian (163375) | more than 5 years ago | (#26282681)

If you get the chance to move out, consider getting a Passive House, where it has super-thick insulation and is hermetically sealed. You wouldn't have to worry about frozen pipes in that kind of setup. []

Re:Passive house heating (1)

zippthorne (748122) | more than 5 years ago | (#26282857)

If you get the chance to move out, consider getting a Passive House, where it has super-thick insulation and is hermetically sealed. You wouldn't have to worry about frozen pipes in that kind of setup.

Not for long, anyway.

Re:Passive house heating (1)

Ioldanach (88584) | more than 5 years ago | (#26283015)

Wouldn't you still need to power the air-to-air heat exchanger blower?

Use the (electric/hybrid) car. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26282683)

Then there's this guy, who used a Prius [] .

Pretty clever. The car's batteries power to the home, and the car's software takes care of the duty cycle.

If he got 17kWh out of 5 gallons of gasoline, he's running at about 10% efficiency (~35 MJ/L == 36 kWh/gal), which is about half as efficient as the 20% you're likely to get out of a dedicated diesel generator. The internal combustion engine of the car isn't running 24/7, it's cycling on and off every half hour or so, and there should be relatively little CO buildup within the house. (Still, if you're going to try this, you should have a CO alarm handy.)

What you lose in efficiency is made up for by the fact that if you own a hybrid, your "emergency backup generator" doubles as a source of transportation during the 99% of the time that it's not being used. As long as the roads remain passable, you can use your emergency generator to refuel itself.

quick and dirty method is: (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26282705)

1. Disconnect house from power grid. flip your main outside breakers before it gets to you junction box.
2. turn off as much stuff in the house
3. turn on generator.
4. make a male to male 220 plug that is long enough to go from your dryer's plugin to your generator. Plug said male to male 220 cord into output of genset and into dryer plugin.
5. start turning on stuff in your house until gen set gets weary.

This is the very quick and dirty way, non-UL approved, violates code but will power your house in an emergency.

This 220 plug trick I think is how many contractors put power to a house's electricity grid when the power has been shut off.

Rob is a whiny little bitch. (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26282719)

Just call Slashdot your half-assed blog already, Rob. Then you can post all your ridiculously biased stories, and no one will complain about your utterly incompetent "editors".

From Cool Tools (1)

Nosajjason (613456) | more than 5 years ago | (#26282727)

Kevin Kelly's Cool Tools recently had a write up at [] regarding Generac Guardian Automatic Standby Generator. It is more detailed than I could be on the subject. The most import thing is making sure that the generator output (kW/hr) is greater than your probable consumption during a blackout. When determining which systems will run off the generator, consider other creature comforts, such as running the hot-water heater and some/all of the electrical outlets in the kitchen (for charging cell phones, making coffee, etc.); however, such additions will add to consumption calculation.

Re:From Cool Tools (1)

ArgoTango (114573) | more than 5 years ago | (#26283021)

I was struggling to remember my login so that I could post the same info from Cool Tools - I'm glad you did! I highly trust the recommendations that are made on that site.

Re:From Cool Tools (1)

MazzThePianoman (996530) | more than 5 years ago | (#26283125)

I do too. They pointed out from great 9 LED $5 flashlights on Amazon that work amazingly well. Getting real world experience on good items is important because most businesses, including Amazon, have "reviews" that are authored by the makers of the product or their competitors.

Fireplace? (1)

lalena (1221394) | more than 5 years ago | (#26282773)

If your only issue is with warmth, then a fireplace may be alternative.
A wood burning unit obviously doesn't require electricity, but some gas ones can run without power as well. You just can't use the blower.
A 35,000+ BTU vent-free natural gas fireplace can be had for about $1000 + $300 installation + $200 mantle.
A vented gas fireplace will increase the cost of both the fireplace and installation.

This is just something else to consider. Sure it doesn't power the fridge, but when its 20 degrees out you can always put the perishables outside.

Step 1: Check your local laws (2, Informative)

tgd (2822) | more than 5 years ago | (#26282801)

Every state and town has different rules about how it all needs to be set up.

In some places, like Massachusetts, you can't do any of the install yourself. You have to have a licensed electrician do it.

As a tip, get a generator that uses an inverter. They run quieter and are less likely to damage electronics if you run out of fuel with them.

You also, pretty much everywhere, have to have a proper transfer switch to disconnect the grid power any time there is any electricity being sent into your house by the generator -- otherwise you will energize the power lines around your house and could kill a line worker.

But generally, you really need to talk to someone who knows the answer locally for you.

Re:Step 1: Check your local laws (1)

zippthorne (748122) | more than 5 years ago | (#26283027)

Make sure you get one that has a good inverter, though. The cheapos at the car shop use a 3-bit lookup table, which is good enough to run a ceiling fan. noisily. Probably possible to run a computer even.. if the PSU has good isolation.

but.. I doubt it's actually a good idea to run either.

How do you calculate what size of genny you need? (1)

CohibaVancouver (864662) | more than 5 years ago | (#26282809)

Assuming you wanted to power your fridge, furnace circuits & blower, a small TV and a microwave (and never all at the same time), how do you calculate how big of a generator you need?

Short answer--don't. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26282835)

If you have to ask, you shouldn't do this yourself. There are licensed professionals in the phone book who know what they're doing and can discuss options with you. Call a few up, ask them what their experience is with backup and standby generators for residential application, and pick the one who sounds most clueful.

There are a LOT of bad things that could happen if you mess this up. You could zap everything plugged into an outlet in your house. You could blow the generator when the power comes back on. You could black out the neighborhood. You could kill yourself. And, by the way, this is also likely something your insurance won't cover, so you're tinkering without a net

You're a Slashdot editor, so you might have some technical savvy, but this is not the place to start learning about home wiring. I don't care if you know Ohm's law, or if you can diagram microelectronic circuits. If you've never tied into a service panel before, don't start by doing it unsupervised on your own valuable equipment.

Depends on how much you can spend (2, Interesting)

Sycraft-fu (314770) | more than 5 years ago | (#26282853)

As with most things. Basically you can buy a generator of any capacity you like. For small things, like a few lights and a heater and such, pretty much any one will do. Turns out that engines generate a rather lot of power in comparison to what most household items use. As a reference 1 horsepower = 745 watts. Gives you a little perspective on the amazing amount of power in a 200hp car engine.

Now this kind of thing would cost you somewhere in the range of $200-700 probably depending on size. It'll be a portable unit, gas powered. You'd wheel it outside, fire it up, and run an extension cord to your devices. Something to note though is the power is rather dirty. These small ones aren't so stable with the output. I don't know that you'd want to hook anything like a computer to it. Do so, and you might burn it out. For that you'd probably have to get a high quality DC inverter and hook it to the DC output (most small generators have a DC output). You'll also need to deal with the fuel. Gas isn't stable, you can't just keep a tank around for years. You'll have to periodically use the fuel and get more. You'll also want to keep extra fuel, past what it's tank can hold, since they usually aren't that large (5-20 hours worth or so normally). Finally, they are really noisy, like 90dB close up. Might bother some people.

Another option is a full home backup generator. These are modified car engines hooked to generators. They produce enough power to do an entire home. You wire them in to your breaker box, usually with an automatic transfer switch (though you can do manual transfer if you like). When the power dies, the generator fires up and transfers over. You then use your outlets as normal.

These generally run off of propane or natural gas (really large ones use diesel but you won't need that). If you have gas to your house, that makes fueling real simple. You simply take it from that. You never worry about refueling. If not, you install a propane tank, which you likely already have, and use that. Run time is really only limited by available fuel, and they come in sizes as large as you like. They also produce power stable enough that it is fine to run electronics on it. Hell, they have better power than some parts of the grid.

Downsides are size and cost. They are big, immobile things. You are going to have to have it installed and it is the a permanent part of the house. The cost is also high. Probably $2000 minimum, more realistically around $5000 and as much as $10,000-12,000. However, if you spend some cash you can get one that is rather quiet (around what a 4 cylinder car would be at 3,000rpm or so) and will easily do your whole house.

If you live in an area with major power problems, the whole house solution is the thing to check out. Expensive, but works great. Generac, or their consumer brand Guardian would be a good choice. They also test themselves (once a week normally) so you'll know if there are problems.

If you go for a cheap solution, just be mindful of all the gotchas. Make sure to test it, make sure to keep fresh fuel around, and if you need to use sensitive devices, make sure there is something cleaning up the power for them unless you are ok if they get burnt up. It might not be a problem, the generator might produce nice clean power and/or the device might have a power supply that doesn't care at all, but then it might end up killing something.

A Solar Example (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26282867)

For about $18,000 including install (more than a generator, but provides reduction in costs all year) I did the following:

1. About 1300 watts of passive solar panels
2. A rather nice Outback inverter/charge controller with enough spare capacity for another 1300 watts if panels drop in price
3. Enough deep cycle batteries to last a day or two without sun

This can (and does) power:

1. My furnace blower (we have gas heat)
2. A refrigerator
3. The kitchen, for whatever we want to plug in within reason (no microwaves!)
4. Lights in a bedroom.

It's been in operation about 18 months and has done very well through multiple outages.

How dare you (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26282885)

I live in Scotland, you insensitive clod.

some ideas (4, Informative)

scharkalvin (72228) | more than 5 years ago | (#26282921)

Generac ( sells complete packages ready to install as well as discrete units and transfer switches. I have one of their 15KW air cooled LNG/Propane generators (only in my case it is for power outages caused by Hurricanes). Very easy to install, mount their transfer panel next to your main breaker panel and transfer some of the loads from the main panel to the generator panel. The unit WON'T run your entire house, but you can put the most important circuits under backup.

If you have piped in LNG this is the way to go. Otherwise you need to bury a 250 to 1000 gal propane tank in the backyard.

    The choice of fuel for generator use would be LNG, Propane, Diesel, and Gasoline (in that order).

Gasoline has the shortest 'shelf life' and is the most difficult to store (ask your fire department!).

    Diesel fuel can last for years with the right additives and can power your car (if you have a diesel car). Diesel engines will also run on JetA (live near an airport?), home heating oil (filter it first!), bio-diesel (rob your nearby McDonalds of their used french fri oil!), even Kerosene. If you buy diesel fuel for generator use make sure you fill out the required paperwork so you don't have to pay the road taxes on the fuel. You can store diesel in the same kind of tanks that home heating oil is stored in.

How about a Prius (3, Interesting)

speroni (1258316) | more than 5 years ago | (#26282929)

Car Generator []

Simple and Practical (1)

blueheronorganics (1251350) | more than 5 years ago | (#26282957)

We had the same problem a last year with an ice storm knocking power out for days. Fortunately we had the foresight to buy a generator. Ours is a 6000 watt portable gas model we found on sale at a local home improvement store ($600 I think) I did the wiring myself (not an expert but I can make sparks when I want) All I did was put a 220V breaker in the junction box in one of our outbuildings and ran a piece of four wire romex to a male twist lock plug. To power the entire farm I simply throw the main switch disconnecting us from the utility at the pole (MANDATORY you don't want to fry some poor utility worker when they are trying to repair what should be a dead line) start the generator, plug the wire into the 220v outlet and turn on the breaker. Viola 6k watts runs our furnace, lights, well pump and cattle waterer; that's all we really need. This is not up to "code" but works very well and costs less that $50

Inverter run from your car (1)

RPGonAS400 (956583) | more than 5 years ago | (#26282973)

I lived in Manitoba near Winnipeg (the coldest city in the world over 500,000 people) for 6 winters. I heated my house mainly with a pellet stove and I wanted a backup mainly to run the fan in case of a power failure (I did not want my pipes to freeze). I had lived in rural Wisconsin prior to that where power outages on the rural electric co-operative lines were a regularity. I bought a Coleman generator from Canadian Tire for about $600 that put out about 1800 Watts.

If I had to do it over again I would have just used an inverter plugged into the cigarette lighter of my car and left the car running. For one thing in my case, where we lived had hardly any trees to blow onto the lines so we never experienced an outage the entire time up there (yay Manitoba Hydro!!). My generator still sits in the box never used after 10 years. Another thing is the gas tank on my car is much larger than the small tank on the generator. Inverters for cars are also much cheaper.

Obviously this will not work on a large scale, or when you are not home, but it is probably the cheapest solution.

Sincerely - I wish you good luck (1)

JediTrainer (314273) | more than 5 years ago | (#26282975)

Cautious note - not been adequately tested yet...

The main thing I was always worried about was heat. Enough to keep from freezing, bursting pipes, etc. We have a finished basement, so my wife and I had a high-efficiency, sealed natural gas fireplace insert installed.

The pilot stays on, but we got a model that can ignite without power (it uses 4xAA batteries in its control unit). It also has a blower that doesn't seem to take much power - aka low enough that it can run off an inverter if I run an extension cord to the car outside.

We tested this briefly when the furnace went out briefly while I diagnosed what the issue was, albeit the power was still on (turned out the air intake was blocked by snow). It's adequate to keep the basement quite comfortable, and the rest of the house just above freezing (candles can help add a little extra heat too).

I know it seems quaint but my main worry is staying warm enough to survive in such an emergency, and keep the pipes from freezing. We have a barbeque that could serve as our cooking appliance in the meantime. I use it year-round regardless, so it's always in working condition and ready to go.

A generator would be nice in the future, but at the moment when money's a bit tight, seems like a bit of overkill.

Simple: Generator and a transfer switch (2, Informative)

Glendale2x (210533) | more than 5 years ago | (#26283001)

There's two ways: the "emergency only" way and the fancy everything automatic way.

#1: Any gas generator with a 240/120v twist lock outlet plus one of those 6 to 10 circuit generator transfer switches. The transfer switch has rocker switches on it and you pick your favorite circuits that you want to run on the generator during an outage. It wires in next to your breaker box - no need to run new wire anywhere. They usually have watt meters on them, too. When the power goes out, plug the generator into the transfer switch, fire it up, and switch the circuits to emergency. Get a generator in the 5 to 10 kW range. Cheap and effective, but the downside is you have to start it manually, and most portable units you can find run on unleaded gas. Make sure you run the generator at least once a month or you'll be in a world of hurt when you need it the most and it doesn't want to start.

#2: The fancy automated way. Get one of those Generac whole-house units. They have automatic transfer switches that completely bypass the utility feed and run the whole panel. When the power goes out it auto-starts and auto-transfers. They automatically start to exercise every week, too. These will probably be special order and definitely more expensive, but well worth it if you frequently have extended power outages with crappy weather and you don't want to go outside to fire up the generator. They can run on natural gas or propane. Get at leat a 10kW unit.

Either way you go use a transfer switch that wires into your breaker panel. It's much easier than running new wire or extension cords everywhere, especially when the power is out and you just want to get the damn thing running.

no-hands, $4000-5000. hands, $1200-1800. (1)

swschrad (312009) | more than 5 years ago | (#26283007)

breaks down about this way... a natural gas or LP or diesel generator with line-down starter (generac is the most widely known) starts about $2000. you will need a concrete pad poured and fuel supply cut in, as well as a conduit underground to the house, that's about another grand.

wire in a transfer switch so there can be no question of reverse energizing of the power line, the transfer box is vastly overpriced at $400 for a simple multi-breaker thing and a couple grand or more for a whole-house breaker for the main feed to the home.

electrician expenses will chew up a few hundred bucks. call it $500 to pull the lines you want to protect and run them to the transfer box.

tank and fuel if you went the diesel route or LP route takes it anywhere from $4000 to $5000.

if you can handle hands-on, avoid the "use two breaker panels" nonsense, it's not possible to do that and meet electrical and criminal code requirements that you be unable to back-feed the power line and kill the guys working to restore power. you will have to terminate the lines you need to transfer in junction boxes, have SO cable with twist-lok connectors coming out, and these plug into either color-coded twist-lok receptacles in a junction box either from the breaker panel, or the feed from a bulkhead conduit/box that brings in the power from the twist-lok on the standalone construction generator you buy for about a grand.

electrician costs and parts will kill the rest.

I should add, it will die in about 100 hours. (1)

swschrad (312009) | more than 5 years ago | (#26283099)

it seems generators now have run-timers that turn them off to remind you to change the oil and filter. so you are going to have to go out every three to five days, shut the bugger down anyway, and change it.

our company had a tower full of engineers who never get dirty, so they didn't know it, so we turned up a bunch of remote stuff on generator while waiting for local power companies to run us underground service. yeah, you guessed it, every few days a wave of failure tickets.

engineered reliability... not.

Simple answer... (1)

Anaerin (905998) | more than 5 years ago | (#26283023)

Use [] your [] car [] ! What do you mean you're not driving a Prius?

Generac Guardian Automatic Standby Generator (1)

MazzThePianoman (996530) | more than 5 years ago | (#26283025)

A blog I frequently read had a recommendation of this automatic natural gas fired system. [] As for regular generators Honda is one of the most reliable in the business. I see more and more fire stations using their power equipment. My Mom's house lost power for two weeks during the Maine ice storm of 98. It was a pricey choice but in those situations you can not skimp on something that needs to be nearly 100% reliable.

Buy a ticket outta there (1)

chelsel (1140907) | more than 5 years ago | (#26283043)

Don't buy a generator, just buy a ticket and fly somewhere warm.

Been there, done that (1)

swaltman (1442309) | more than 5 years ago | (#26283059)

First, don't completely rule out batteries. Rather than have the big generator running all the time, it can be better to run it every few hours to heat the house and recharge the batteries, and run the router/light/laptop off of the inverter. If you know which end of a soldering iron to use, you will do much better by buying batteries and an inverter than by buying a UPS, and you'll save money when it is time to replace the batteries.

Second, choose the right fuel. Gasoline is common and plentiful, but dangerous to store in quantity and a royal pain to extract from the gas tanks of modern cars, and that gas station down the street is often a lot harder to get to when you need your generator. Propane is common in rural areas, but essentially impossible to refill during a blizzard. If you heat with oil, it makes a lot of sense to get a generator that can run off of oil.

If you do store gas, buy an can of Stabil and use it.

Electric start is nice, but really increases the cost of the generator. And even if you test it weekly, it seems to fail when you need it.

Last time I checked, the Honda generators were much quieter than the cheaper ones. After days of operation, this does matter.

The dangerous, low-cost installation is to just get a male-male 'suicide' cord. Turn off the main, and all the circuits you don't want to power. Use the cord to connect the generator to a 240V socket (maybe the dryer, going out through a window), and turn on that breaker and the breaker for the circuit(s) you want to power. If the hazards aren't obvious, then this probably isn't for you.

The hazard of non-approved installations is that if you power the line to your house, it will may go the wrong-way through the transformer, and charge the line the repairman is working on to 13 kV. But only if there isn't so much load on the line that your generator gives up first, which is what usually happens when you forget to disconnect the main. (I've never accidentally tried to power my neighborhood, but my neighbors have.)

The problem with the cheap 'installation' is that you don't have an easy way to tell when the power has been restored. You can end up running your generator for hours before you look out the window and see that your neighbors house has the outside lights on...

The cheap / halfass / easy way of doing it. (3, Informative)

Darth_brooks (180756) | more than 5 years ago | (#26283075)

Disclaimer: Electricity is dangerous, and can kill you. I am not an electrician. I am a slashdot poster.

The short answer for going-off grid: Buy lots of solar panels, which don't work as well here in SE Michigan (WTF is with you calling Michigan the "Northeast"?) in the winter time, but may be enough to get you by in conjunction with a good sized battery bank, and be prepared to significantly change the way you use electricity.

As for the short / halfass way most of us deal with generator usage: Backfeeding (which isn't always regarded as the safest / smartest thing to do, since there are always idiots out there that will screw it up)

-Go to your breaker box, shut off the main breaker or breakers (the ones at the top of your box that say "Main".)

Congratulations, your house is now just a giant circuit of wires, not connected to the grid.

-Shutoff any and all non-essential breakers, especially those connected to heavy draws (You're not going to run your electric stove unless you've got a beefy generator). You may just want to kill everything, then try individual breakers on over time.

-Fire up your generator. If your 401k is where mine is now, you may want to do this indoors, in a confined space....If breathing is a priority for you (pussy), do this outside, a reasonable distance from your house.

-Using a heavy gauge extension cord (Not a "move a lamp" cord, think "run a heavy appliance / machine" cord), plug in to a nearby outlet.

Congratulations, you are now "backfeeding" your house off the generator. Instead of coming from the power lines, your electricity is coming in through an outlet. *DO NOT TURN YOUR MAIN BREAKERS ON!!!* One, Your poor generator will now try to power the entire grid, something that no dinky little 2500watt Honda can do and two, you will send power down a line that the poor DTE linesmen will / may assume is dead. Improper backfeeds can kill (and usually do a few times a year).

Now you try and figure out what "side" of your box is being feed (if you have a typical, grey box with switch type fuses in two columns. If you have glass fuses in a quaint old an electrician and move out. Oi). The breakers on the same side as the circuit your generator is plugged in to will now have power. If it's on the same side as your furnace, you can turn the furnace breaker on and, hopefully, the furnace should kick on and begin heating the house. If your furnace is on the other side as your power source, you can move the power line to an outlet that is on the same side, or plug in another extension cord from your generator to an outlet on the same side.

Once power returns to your area simply shut down your generator, unplug your cords, then turn your main breaker back on.

You have to prioritize what's important to you for power. Furnace and sump pump are your musts, and a sump pump can put out a very heavy load for a very short time, causing a brownout. Ditto a Refrigerator. After that, its your call based on what the generator will power. You can try to power your whole house on a 2000 watt generator, and the generator will run. You'll also kill the generator and probably damage your major appliances. Bigger the generator, the more you can power, and the greater the cost. Honda is the Sony of the Generator market. Generally quality stuff, but you'll pay for it.

You'd also do well to investigate your electrical box and spend a day labeling every breaker and determining what you have running on each circuit. (lest you find out that a cheap alarm clock shorted out while you were on vacation, causing a breaker to pop, and that breaker was the same circuit your sump pump is on, which explains why your basement is now a swimming pool.) When I moved it, my box had two labels "Furnace" and "stove", now all 22 circuits are labeled, and I've been putting together a diagram that covers every outlet in the house.

Hooking in portable generators by code (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26283101)

Some utilities offer a device that goes between the meter and the house and has a plug for a portable generator (meter socket transfer switch). This is a nice way to get a generator plug and transfer switch, but is usually limited to 30A and most utilities rent them (which is expensive).

Some panel manufacturers (Square-D's QO line) offer an interlock kit. This permits one to install a backfeed breaker for the generator in a particular location (for QO it is top right in a 200A panel) and comes with a mechanical interlock so that both the mains and the backfeed breaker cannot be on at the same time (thereby protecting linemen).

Wood Stove (2, Interesting)

kenp2002 (545495) | more than 5 years ago | (#26283135)

1 Wood stove will do you just fine for keeping things warm from a survivability stand point. Several exotic solutions are also radiant heat setups with the woodstove as part of the fluid line (in short rather then using electricity to heat the radiant heat the wood stove does.) I've seen that setup in several garages in the floors (some very nice crude ones too in the middle of nowhere for storage sheds.) Usually there is a sterling engine style pump that is integrated to help move the fluid.

In a long term emergency go into the garage and get your camping tent. Set up the tent in basement of the house (use soup cans or other weights instead of spikes. I use bungie cords to some unfinished studs.(most homes freeze top-down fyi) Place 3-4 blankets and towels down as a floor in the tent. Grab some scrap 2x4s and nail up a pair of V shaped legs with a beam connecting them and build a small mini-tent inside the tent. Place blankets on top of that so you have a mini-tent inside for sleeping. Place any pets inside the main tent. This should keep the air temperature comfortable (sometimes even hot) in weather up to -20 degrees (your house is a big wind barrier.) turn off the water to the house and drain pipes. Wait for help.

Pipes freezing you should shut em off and bleed em empty if possible. A single wood stove in most homes will keep the ambient temp above freezing with little problem.

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