Some general propane/NG generator questions

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Per Mark Lloyd:

I do that and, mainly for OCD reasons - but partially to help shed some light on a recurrent phenom reported in the EU2000 forum, I keep a log that includes the number of pulls needed to start.
Tests are more-or-less painless once one installs a petcock between fuel pump and carb. To test: chokes on, flip the petcocks on, pull the cords, choke off once a gennie starts, flip the petcocks off, and walk away.
I implied that I do it once per month, but it's really more like when I happen to be in the garden shed where the gennies live and I happen to think of it.
--
Pete Cresswell

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On 07/20/2015 08:16 PM, (PeteCresswell) wrote:

Do you believe using the petcock is better for the generator than shutting off the ignition? That's the way I've been shutting mine down.

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Mark Lloyd
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If you shut off the fuel and let the engine die, it uses the gas out of the carborator. If the fuel is left in, it can evaporate and leave some 'gunk' behind. I have had to clean out my generator carborator 3 times in the past before I started cutting off the fuel and switching to the ethanol free gas.
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On 07/21/2015 01:38 PM, Ralph Mowery wrote:

So then I've been doing it right.
This is a Honda generator, but a different model. It's almost 7 years old. The manual says to stop it with the engine switch.
Later I added a propane conversion (that allows either fuel). The instructions with that say to stop it by cutting off the fuel.
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Per Mark Lloyd:

It empties the carb's float bowl which, when left full too long, is a common source of problems with this particular make/model gennie as the gasoline undergoes some sort of change while sitting and gums things up.
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wrote:

likelihood of varnish and gum buildup during storage.
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On 7/21/2015 2:34 PM, Mark Lloyd wrote:

My two stroke ETQ says to remove the load, and shut it off with the rocker switch. I let it run dry a couple times, and now it's got a wicked piston rod knock.
Four stroke generators, probably OK to run em dry. Splash lubricated, after all.
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Christopher A. Young
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On Tue, 21 Jul 2015 19:05:34 -0400, Stormin Mormon

full pressure lubricated.. 2 strokers are lubricated by fuel and should never be allowed to run too lean or to run out of fuel, under load or not.
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On 7/17/2015 10:03 AM, TomR wrote: CY: Text inserted after my initials.

CY: I'd want to check first with the HOA about the whole matter. It is very possible they will prohibit any thing.
She seems to have at

CY: Week is a bit long, to be without power.
Her home

CY: That's a bad choice, to move into an all electric house in a HOA. Not much to be done now, but advice to all who are looking to buy a home....
None of the homes in her

CY: Other option is a propane tank on site. If the HOA will permit, that is.

CY: Transfer switch is a good idea.
Then, if there was a power

CY: I like the concept.

CY: Based on what you want to operate.
She probably would only need some basic items powered, but I

CY: Well, see? Not enough info. Some of the generator companies will have that info.

CY: Right, some companies will put in a tank which they own, with the understanding you buy propane only from them. Some companies price cooking gas differently than heating gas. You might also be able to put in propane furnace, which might be cheaper than heat pump.

CY: I suspect your HOA will veto the entire idea.

CY: Can't think of much. Yellow pages is your friend, call and see if you can find a company that makes sense. It is also possible your friend may need to do indoor things like flashlights and portable free standing propane heaters, to stay out of sight of the HOA.

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On 7/17/2015 10:03 AM, TomR wrote:

There are at least a couple web sites out in the ether, which deal with these questions. My experience with winter power cuts, they are miserable. My own answer is to wear more warm clothes, run the gas range in the kitchen. After dinner, I run a wire from my natural gas furnace to a small generztor, and run for an hour before it gets too late in the eveing. That makes night and sleeping so much better. Very little of this will convert to your freind's house in the HOA. Wish I was more help.
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On 7/17/2015 10:03 AM, TomR wrote:

First step is to find out if the HOA will allow a generator.
If no, we are done.
If yes, on to the next step.
If the gas is only going to power the generator, she will pay a lot of money if the utility will even consider it. They do things for cheap if you use a lot of gas. I was able to get a gas line brought into our building, but our typical gas bill runs $10,000 a month. Your friend will use $10 a year so don't expect a warm welcome.
Propane is an option, but check that HOA again. They may have a limit on what you can have.
Next, determine what you want to work during the outages.
Go the one of the web sites by the generator makers and they have information to help you choose the size you need. Do some research to find a reputable installer
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around here home depot sell turn key natural gas backup generators pro inst alled with automatic transfer switch starting at about 5 grand. this is pre tty affordable, power fails the fault is detected, the generator starts, th e home is transfered to the generator till main power is restored...
this is key the switch over is automatic.
in the winter, if you happen to be out of town you could return to a frozen destroyed home.
auto switch over it requires nothing
if natural gas is available thats ideal..... gas is highly reliable. :)
propane is costly and the HOA may have issues with it.
the auto switch over generators are pretty quiet, hopefully HOA wouldnt blo ck it
buy a big enough generator to have some power for the neighbors
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more than just the generator as you pay for the NG service whether you use it or not, and you'll pay for the rental of the large propane tank too, whether you use any propane or not. Af dor the propane consumption of the generator, about 30% more propane than you would burn gasoline on a given generator, and count on derating the generator output by about the same amount. My 7000 watt gasoline generator puts out just over 5000 watts on either propane or Natural Gas. Mine is set up to run off natural gas, but I have a propane adapter (regulator and tank hoses) to allow it to run on Propane - and I can still run it on Gasoline as well.
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In typed:

Thanks everyone for all of the replies so far. I read them all. Here are some of my follow-up thoughts and ideas based on what I read:
The information about rough estimates of wattage needed for the heat pump, central A/C, etc. was very helpful. Trying to power them does seem to lean toward the idea that she would need about a 15 KW generator which would be expensive.
That information started me thinking that maybe she could get by with a much smaller generator system and not try to power the heat pump or central A/C during an outage -- in winter or in summer. Instead, maybe she could use the generator to power an electric room space heater or two. And, for A/C, maybe she could just buy a small one-room window A/C unit to get by during an outage.
The website that was suggested ( http://www.centralmainediesel.com/wattage-calculator.asp ) was very helpful to get an idea of the amount of wattage needed for various uses.
I was thinking that staying away from gasoline powered generators may be better for a number of reasons. One is the issue of storing the gasoline, whether it would stay stable if stored for a long time without being used, and whether trying to get a gasoline generator started when the power does go out may be an issue -- especially if it has been sitting around for half a year without being used. Another issue is that of refilling a hot generator safely, plus the question of being able to get to a gas station for more gas during a snowstorm -- and if the gas stations will have power to pump gas. So, that's why I was thinking of propane or natural gas instead of gasoline.
A manual cross-over or cut-over switch instead of an automatic switchover would work for her. She rarely travels, but if she were away during a power outage she could easily have one of her neighbors do the manual cross-over for the generator system.
Yes, there definitely is the question of what the HOA will allow. She would need to see if anyone else in her area has a backup generator system and what they have (if there are any, and if they are allowed by the HOA). One factor that she is apparently facing that many of the other homeowners within the HOA are not facing is the source of her electricity. She bought her home when the development was first being built, so she is in the "Phase 1" area. In her area, the power lines are run on poles and are subject to being knocked down by trees during storms. In the rest of the development, they went with underground electric power lines instead of lines up on poles. And, the power for those underground lines comes from a different power "grid"(?) or source than the power lines on the poles. So, the rest of her development rarely suffers any power outages. That may mean that few, if any, other homeowners in the HOA have or need backup generators.
Whether it is possible to get a natural gas hookup is another question. In my area, if the run is not too long, and if it means that the natural gas utility company will get a new residential customer for gas heat, maybe gas stove and oven, and gas hot water, they sometimes will run the pipe for free. Or, they may charge something like $1,000 to do the new hook-up. That's a lot of "ifs" but at least she could look into that. If she did get a natural gas connection, she may want to replace her electric heat pump with a natural gas heater anyway, and probably the electric stove/oven to gas, and the electric water heater to gas.
All of these things cost money, but if the choice is to spend money on some of these cost items (window A/C, gas heater, gas stove/oven, or whatever) versus coughing up money for a much larger backup generator system, opting for a smaller generator and buying gas appliances instead may be a better idea in the long run.
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Lots of good ideas, but guess the main thing is how much money does she want to spend, and how much money does she want to spend every time the poweris out for a week or whatever those long periods of time have been in the past. That is after that HOA. I live where I don't have to deal with that,so never think about a HOA.
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[snip]

We don't have a HOA here, but we do have hot sticky summers. I expect I'll never have a generator big enough to run the central A/C (3 ton), but can use a window unit in one room.
BTW, we had a power outage this summer (it was caused by a tornado) and the window A/C helped a lot.
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In typed:

Thanks again to everyone for all of the continued responses, ideas, and comments.
One of the topic themes that came up a few times had to do with complications about how to do the shut-downs, putting in some kind of valves, etc. -- I think mostly related to gasoline powered generators. All of that would be way beyond the skill level of my friend, which is one of the reasons why I think that a gasoline powered generator wouldn't be a good idea for her.
It looks to me like the plan will most likely end up being for her to get a not-too-large propane powered generator and use it to power only a few things -- such as lighting, the fridge, an electric space heater or window A/C as needed etc. -- and skip the idea of trying to power the central A/C, the water heater, etc. Her home is a split-level style with a back door to goes out to the ground level in the back of the house. So, I am assuming that she could store the propane generator inside and wheel it out the back door when needed.
I think she would just have to deal with having smaller propane tanks on hand and she would only be able to use the generator off and on part of the time during an outage as needed for some lighting, a little heat, etc. In the summer, she could probably get out to get replacement propane tanks as needed. In the winter, during a snowstorm, not so much.
She would need a cross-over switch in the main panel to switch to generator power. I do have a question about that. Can the cross-over switches set up to only activate certain circuit breakers in the panel and not activate the others? By that, I mean, could it be set up to NOT power the water heater, maybe the central A/C, etc., but still power the lighting circuits, the fridge circuit, etc?
Also, I assume that the propane generators come with some type of battery powered automatic starter. Is that correct?
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On Thursday, July 23, 2015 at 9:54:53 AM UTC-4, TomR wrote:

That's the most common approach, ie to have a subpanel that has the loads you want the generator to run and it can only run those loads. But, I think it's nuts. It's more expensive, requires rewiring, a lot more work, cost, etc. IMO, the best solution is a slide lock kit for the panel together with an inlet. That way, you can power whatever you want in the whole house. All you have to do is have a list of what breakers to open, which to leave closed. And you can manage it dynamically, choosing some loads now, others later. With CFL, LEDs now, you can supply power to lights in the whole house and just turn on the ones you want. With the subpanel approach, you're limited to the circuits that are moved to the subpanel.
The only issue is if a lockout kit is available for the panel. First choice would be one from the panel manufacturer, if available. Here's an aftermarket company:
http://www.interlockkit.com/

Depends on the particular generator. Electric start is common. I think the biggest question is the run time of a propane using typical gas grill size tanks versus other choices, eg diesel or gas.
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In typed:

Thanks. That's actually what I meant -- not a subpanel -- instead, a slide lock kit for the panel together with an inlet.
And, I guess it makes sense to just have the power available to all circuits, and turn off the breakers on any that she would not want to run such as the cnentral HVAC, the hot water heater, etc. Although I do wonder about the heat during the winter and how much power just the heat pump would need if the outside temp wasn't so low that the heat pump had to switch to the electric backup heat.

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Per TomR:

First thing that comes to mind for me in that situation is death by carbon monoxide poisoning.
I know I tend to go overboard on this kind of thinking, but I would fear that somebody without a technical mind set might wheel the gennie out to a position where carbon mon could infiltrate the house - or even run it in the garage.
If that sounds far-fetched, consider the nightly news a few nights ago where they featured a story where 4 people died and the suspected cause was carbon mon from a generator they ran in the *basement of the house*. http://tinyurl.com/p253pcp
So if 4 people could all buy into something that blatantly deadly, I would think that one person could even more easily.
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Pete Cresswell

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