Need information about generators

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MaryL wrote:

What I had to say in another newsgroup last year:
--begin included text-- We have two generators--a 1000-watt inverter-equipped one for running electronics, and a 4300-watt one for "everything else." Right now I use a well-planned system of extension cords and power strips, but may have a transfer switch installed eventually. My current system takes me about 30 minutes to deploy fully, and I could get that down to 8 or 10 with a transfer switch--and it would be more goofproof. I'm going to explore a whole-house natural gas generator if/when we build another house.
Incidentally, there are two big things at odds in a lot of circumstances in which you want to deploy a portable generator. There is often precipitation during an extended power outage, and it's important to keep a generator dry. BUT, if you run it in the garage, you can die.
So I run the generators in the garage with the door opened about a foot at the bottom, and a high-power utility blower (such as you'd dry a wet carpet with) directed outward between the exhausts of the generators and the opening. I put a CO detector in the laundry room, where the door from the garage enters the house. This allows me to refuel, configure, etc. without creating unacceptable shock hazards, without having to go out in the rain/ice/snow, and without having an unsightly "generator doghouse" in the yard. During tests and one short "real" deployment, the CO detector has yet to sound--and its alert threshold is quite low. --end included text--
Additional notes:
Note that by "everything else" in the first paragraph I don't mean an HVAC system.
I've also since incorporated a couple of APC uninterruptible power supplies (UPSs) into the "system," which gives me some buffer for refueling and resting times.
Others have given you good feedback about startup surges, and I strongly agree with the poster who endorsed Honda engines.
--
Bo Williams - snipped-for-privacy@hiwaay.net
http://hiwaay.net/~williams /
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qMary,
A bit of Google searching should provide you with a wealth of information for picking the correct generator for your needs. There is a lot of information about the average electrical draw for various devices, including the temporary (surge) requirements when devices first turn on. There is also a lot of info about the advantages of various generator types, sizes and features such as electric start, auto start, 1800 rpm vs 3600 rpm, diesel vs gasoline vs natural gas, extension cords vs transfer switches, etc.
You failed to mention your budget and the importance of convenience to you. Both are extremely important in picking a system. If you have deep pockets, you can get whatever you need or desire. Otherwise, you'll have to make some trade-offs. Can you save the cost of electric start by finding a helpful neighbor?
I've got about $800 invested in a medium generator and a smaller generator. With them, I can keep my refrigerator, my freezer and an emergency small window AC ($100 or so) running in addition to a small number of convenience items. Note that I can only run one large item at a time, but those devices don't have to run continuously. You just rotate among them.
Advise - if you know that a hurricane is heading your way, turn the fridge thermostat very low - about 35 degrees. Turn your freezer thermostats as low as they will go and also fill as much space as possible with plastic containers full of water. These blocks of ice plus the low temperatures will allow the food in the fridge and freezers to survive a much longer outage. Don't forget to turn the AC as low as possible to also provide comfort for as long as possible after the outage hits.
Dorm-sized fridges are a nice second fridge around the house. If you buy one, then during an outage you can remove non- essential items from the dorm fridge (pop, beer, etc.) and load it with the critical items from your big fridge. The dorm fridge uses much less electricity and is easier to run off of a small generator.
Also, compact fluorescent light bulbs are very popular and practical for saving energy. They are particularly useful when you have to rely upon a generator because these bulbs produce the same amount of light for about one fourth the electrical consumption. These CF bulbs will reduce the load on your generator, but keep in mind that the savings in electrical consumption for a few light bulbs is somewhat trivial compared to the load of big items such as a freezer, fridge, hair dryer, toaster, microwave or window AC.
You've also got to consider how much gasoline you are going to need for a "typical" emergency and where you are going to obtain the gas during the emergency. I own 4 vehicles plus a gasoline pump, so on average I've got access to about 60 gallons of gasoline from the vehicles. Of course, I still need to drive and I'm not sure how available gasoline will be in an emergency, so I've also got 60 gallons of gasoline stored in the shed.
I'd like to hook my generators up on the natural gas supply, but there is a non-trivial cost for the conversion parts, the conversion process and the hook-up to the natural gas. If you do the installation yourself or get it done for free by a friend, then you save considerably and I'd guess that the price drops down to about $150 or so. Please note that a generator converted to natural gas puts out about 10% less electricity. Also note that most conversions are reasonably permanent and you can't just toggle back-and-forth between natural gas and gasoline.
Final advise - try to find somebody with whom you can discuss this decision. It is just too complex and difficult to have a really useful question-and-answer discussion on a newsgroup.
Good luck, Gideon
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<SNIP some very good and well thought out advice >

Let me add this.
If you have enough advanced warning remember that cooked food will last longer at higher temps than uncooked food.
Gideon mentioned filling up the space in the freezer with bottles of water, good advice. Get rid of as much air space as you can. Even if it means crumpling up news papers and filling the space that way. For a chest freezer laying blankets or comforters over the top of the unit will also help.
For shorter term power outages you might consider a 500 w voltage inverter. This will allow you to run several lights off of your cars battery for a short period of time. The smaller ones are cheaper than a geni but there are a couple of drawbacks.
1. Running a freezer or AC unit off of one is impractical. Power inverters that put out that much wattage are about the same price as a geni.
2. You have to be careful not to run your car battery down to the point that you car no longer starts.
For prolonged power outages a voltage inverter is about useless. But for short term outages 5 - 6 hours they can make life easier. Especially if you are like I am and are paranoid about fires being started off of candles.
HM
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More likely considerably more than a generator.

We just scrapped one of our cars, and kept the battery (almost new). Alternately, you should be able to buy a battery in decent shape from a scrap yard for not that much money. Add to that a small trickle charger, and it'll always be charged and ready to go.
In this way you can operate for as long as you want without worrying about not being able to start your car. During longish outages, you can recharge the battery by hooking it in parallel with the car battery and running it for a while.
During our most recent outage, we ran ours for about 12 hours with small compact fluorescent fixtures, and watched many hours of TV ;-) The battery didn't seem anywhere near needing recharge.
[Note that car batteries aren't ideal for this use, and ideally you'd run it through a discharge/recharge cycle at least once a month.]
--
Chris Lewis, Una confibula non set est
It\'s not just anyone who gets a Starship Cruiser class named after them.
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