Some general propane/NG generator questions

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I live in New Jersey but this is for a friend of mine who lives in Virginia in the suburbs near Richmond.
She lives in a 4 BR single family home in a development which (in case it matters) is governed by a homeowners association. She seems to have at least one or two major power outages a year due to summer storm damage, as well as winter snow storm damage. The power outages are almost always caused by wires down in her area from falling tree limbs etc., and her area is almost always one of the last to get their power back on. When she has a power outage, it is often for several days up to a week or more. Her home is all electric -- meaning electric heat pump, electric central A/C, electric hot water, and electric stove/oven etc. None of the homes in her area have natural gas service, but she believes that there may be a natural gas line that runs along the roadway behind her house. So, one possible option may be for her to get a natural gas connection to her home from there, and she is going to ask the natural gas utility company about that.
Due to the frequency and length of the power outages, she is considering getting a back-up generator system installed. One option seems to be to get a propane generator. And, I think that it may be a good idea to have it connected by an electrician to one of those manual switch-over (cross-over?) breaker devices in the main electric panel. Then, if there was a power outage, she could do the switchover to the generator power and not be without power for days on end.
Here are a few of my questions:
1) Can anyone give a rough idea of the size (wattage) propane generator that she may need? She probably would only need some basic items powered, but I wonder what she would need if she also wanted to be able to keep the heat pump on in the winter and the central air on in the summer, plus some lighting, the refrigerator/freezer, etc.
2) How long will the various size propane tanks last before needing to be refilled? I know it depends on the tank size as well as the power rating of the generator. However, she is retired and she probably would not have the ability to lug around propane tanks to get them refilled, especially during a snow storm. So, I am guessing that some type of larger tank that could be refilled on site by a propane supply company may be a better option -- if that is a possibility.
Any general ideas, information, or suggestions would be appreciated.
I will reply back with additional info if needed.
Thanks.
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Per TomR:

3) For larger tanks, how does one know how much fuel is left in the tank?
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On 7/17/2015 11:06 AM, (PeteCresswell) wrote:

Typically there is a round gage that gives a general idea.
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On Friday, July 17, 2015 at 10:03:32 AM UTC-4, TomR wrote:

The heat pump is probably the largest load. The eqpt will have a label that will tell you the actual data, but I'd guess typical could be in the range of 30A, assuming that electric resistance supplemental heat is disabled. So, that's 7200W right there, with more needed to get it started. Electric water heater is probably next large load, if she can get by with just the water in the tank and not heat it, that would reduce the load. Also, depends if she's willing to manage the loads so that they aren't on at the same time or wants the possibility that they are all on, etc. I'd say she's probably looking at ~~15KW unit. You can probably get by with smaller, but the cost difference for say a 15, vs a 10 isn't that much. Especially when the cost of installation of gas lines, propane tanks, etc is involved. The grill sized tanks aren't going to last long running a heat pump. You can probably figure out the run time with various size propane tanks by looking at the generator specs, how much fuel it uses, etc.
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I don't know about the cost of propane, but if it is anything like gasoline going to a big generator might not be a good idea. A 15 kw unit will probably suck a lot of fuel. While getting the fuel might not be a problem, the cost may be.
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On 7/17/2015 1:11 PM, Ralph Mowery wrote:

The OP did mention power cuts and storms. During such moments, some times fuel becomes unavailable, as the gas stations cannot pump. Less sure about propane. But, if trees are down, the delivery truck may be unable to get there. Trade offs, with any system.
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On 7/17/2015 1:11 PM, Ralph Mowery wrote:

Years ago, I ran some numbers on gasoline power generators, using numbers from sales catalogs. How many hours at half load, gas tanks size, and so on. If memory serves, I figured a gal of gasoline produces 4000 watts for one hour. Propane has less energy than gasoline. If this SWAG all works out, figure 4 gals of propane for one hour of wide open throttle on a 16,000 KW unit. A 100 gal tank (filled to 80 gal) would then be 20 hours of wide open throttle.
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How much does propane cost to fill the tank ? If anything like gas even running with not much of a load the 16 KW unit will use a lot more than a 5 KW unit. If your numbers are anywhere close and even if the generator is not loaded all that heavy the tank is not going to last too long. I understand the OP is going to be without power for several days at a time several times a year.
They might want to opt for a dual system such as about a 1 or 2 KW inverter type to run lights and a tv set and another larger one of around 5 or maybe 10 kw to power up the larger users such as the water heater for short periods of time.
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On Friday, July 17, 2015 at 1:11:11 PM UTC-4, Ralph Mowery wrote:

I was just going off what was given. The OP said they wanted to run their heat pump in the winter for heat and the in the summer for AC. Kitchen is electric, electric WH, it adds up. I'd rather have a 15KW that can do what's needed than a smaller one that can't. But they really need to add up the load. It's true that a bigger engine will use more fuel to some extent when running at lower loads than a smaller engine would. Just like a V8 car engine idling would compared to a 4 cylinder. But you have to size to the max load, not the lesser.
I just went outside to take a look at my AC. It's 5 ton, 14 SEER, minimum circuit ampacity is 36A. That's 8600W right there. I'm sure it's pulling substantially less once it gets going. But you need enough to start it and when starting it's going to be even higher that 8600W. The plate calls out a min breaker size of 45A, which gives you an idea of the starting reqts. How that compares to the heat pump, IDK, because we have no numbers for the actual heat pump. 5 ton AC is the largest AC, but when you're sizing for heat in the winter, I would think having a large heat pump in VA may not be that unusual either.
Cost of fuel, IDK. I've never heard anyone complain about the cost of nat gas. Propane though is a lot more expensive. It all comes down to what you want to do and how much you're willing to pay.
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On 7/17/2015 11:18 AM, trader_4 wrote:

Power requirements for any item are readily found:
http://www.centralmainediesel.com/wattage-calculator.asp
I've got my gasoline powered 5,500 watt generator hooked-up to run oil furnace, well, 2 freezers and refrigerator and a few lights and TV. Off line are water heater, stove, clothes drier and central air. Think it might take 5-10 gal gasoline to run all day, which I don't so I think a propane generator would take about the same. According to the calculator I referenced, I'm underpowered but have gotten away with it the many times I used it.
I know a guy hooked up to a gas line with a generator that runs his whole house which is quite large and kicks in when power fails. Set up like that probably runs 10 grand.
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Per Frank:

That's the quote I got when I looked into it.
Somebody I know had a whole-house gennie with auto-cutover and automagic self testing every so many weeks - fueled by a 500-gallon propane tank.
When our last significant outage hit (9 days for him), he discovered that the automagic self-testing had burned up the alternator and the thing was down hard for the entire outage. He got by on a portable.
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Wow, that had to be frustrating -- to have a big expensive "automatic" backup generator system in place, and then the one time that it is needed, it doesn't work.
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Take a look at the generac reviews on Amazon. A lot of people with real bad reviews, even with new units. I had a neighbor with one about 5 years old, failed during an outage and dealer told him not worth fixing.
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On 7/19/2015 8:18 AM, trader_4 wrote:

A lot of people with real bad reviews, even with new units. I had a neighbor with one about 5 years old, failed during an outage and dealer told him not worth fixing.

Sounds like that unit totally failed to do what it was paid to do. Not good.
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On 07/19/2015 08:36 AM, Stormin Mormon wrote:

It seems like there ought to be some sort of warranty coverage, even after several years. When you buy an expensive thing and don't get ANY use out of it.
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On 7/19/2015 2:03 PM, Mark Lloyd wrote:

Sure, park a $40,000 Buick in your garage for four years and see what kind of warranty coverage you get.
Perhaps it should have been used more to maintain it in working order. Many generators are started once a month for that reason.
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On Sunday, July 19, 2015 at 4:40:28 PM UTC-4, Ed Pawlowski wrote:

It self started once a week fine. AFAIK, serviced regularly too, the guy wasn't cheap. As I said, if you look at reviews on Amazon, a lot of people complaining of similar failures, including new units right out of the box where they were defective and Generac made all kinds of excuses and would keep fixing it instead of swapping it out. I came to the conclusion I'd never buy one.
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On Monday, July 20, 2015 at 8:43:18 AM UTC-4, trader_4 wrote:

Y



le

where they were defective and Generac made all kinds of excuses and would keep fixing it instead of swapping it out. I came to the conclusion I'd ne ver buy one.
I got rid of a generac 4000 watt portable. it had a sealed electronics box, that failed twice. it failed and cost a fortune. my best friend got intere sted, cut the sealed box open, removed the potting material. he added a sta ring switch, start engine, let it run a minute, then push this heavy butto n till the engine loaded up. it worked well, and i loaned it to a friend wh o needed it, he liked it so well i sold it to him., later he moved out of t he area
at that point it even with no load consumed too much gasolie per hour. the bigger the engine size / wattage, the more gasoline it uses, and at little to no load.....
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Per trader_4:

We had a six-hour outage last week and I rode my bike around the neighborhood looking/listening. Saw one Generac working, saw a single lady's not working with a neighbor trying to figure out why...
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On 7/19/2015 5:09 PM, (PeteCresswell) wrote:

It started from this tropic port, on a six hour outage; a six hour outages. The weather started getting rough, the tiny neighborhood was rocked. With one Generac running, one out. A guy with two Hondas, and the Perfesser and Maryann..... here on alt home repair....
EVERYBODY SING! You know the tune!
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