Would Like to Buy A Generator So Need Advice

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Due to my budget, I was unable to buy a generator before Dec.30. Since I do believe that I need one for potential outages, what type should I get? I am single with my own home and am not the least bit mechanical. I really would appreciate any advice you could give me. Many thanks!

-- Ruth Edwards (REath29646@aol.com), January 01, 2000



You should be able to get good buys on a generator during the first part of the year, *if* power supply remains reliable. It's hard to tell you what to do without knowing a lot more about your needs. I think that you would want at least a 3500 watt unit. You will not be able to run your home on it, but you can run the necessary items: refrig, furnace, freezer.

IF you are wanting to run appliances which require a lot of amperage, you might consider something larger. I have a 4,000 watt unit, and it has been adequate for everything we wanted to do. However, these things are not designed to be run continuously. We planned to get along without electricity if we lost power. Generator was an emergency backup to avoid freezing to death, or losing a freezer full of food.

I'm sure if you talk to an electrician and tell him the appliances you need to operate, he can tell you what your generator capacity should be. Don't be in a hurry, there should be some good deals out there.



-- gene (ekbaker@essex1.com), January 01, 2000.

Gene, Thank you so much! I would want to run the frig and either the furnace/ air conditioning.

-- Ruth Edwards (REath29646@aol.com), January 01, 2000.

Ruth E; Hello Ruth, glad to see your still planning, may I suggest a LP gas generator from an RV if possible. Check the local RV dealers around and ask the tech's in back. Where you could find a good one... The genney will be at least 4500 watt or larger (5000 or 6500 watt) which I have. I also have a 500 gallon tank for the house and a smaller one just for the genny- a 120 gallon type. Except do find a genny that runs off vapor, NOT LIQUID , there is a big difference. I bpought this gennt about 2 yrs ago but was too busy to read that it took liquid lp gas to operate... After contacting ONAN they mentioned my genny would run off liquid or high pressure lp gas ( which I am doing)... But if you have time look around and get one that runs off low pressure lp gs. You might have a large 500 gallon tank near the house but you'll have 500 gallons of contained fuel. NOT gasoline . Hope this will help you?

-- Furie (furieart@dnet.net), January 01, 2000.

Hello, Ruth. You might want to start by looking at "The Juice Page", at this URL: (Note: "juice" is another name for electricity.) You will find lots of info about selecting, installing, and using a generator. Here's another page called, "On Buying a Generator"; you can find it at this url: http://www.prepare4y2k.com/gener1.htm And here's a "How Stuff Works" article on emergency power systems: http://www.howstuffworks.com/emergency-power.htm

Those will help you get started. If you have further questions, feel free to e-mail me directly. I'm no expert, but I can describe my own year-long search for a good generator, and point out some of the pitfalls and things to look out for. And give you some suggestions that you might not come across, otherwise.

Glad to see you are thinking seriously about providing your own power in case of an outage. Wish my own family had as much common sense!

Norm H. nharrold@tymewyse.com

-- Norm Harrold (nharrold@tymewyse.com), January 01, 2000.

Ruth, there's nothing wrong with getting a generator, but I recommend that you look at alternatives, if possible.

The cheap ones aren't that great to have, except for very short term use. I have 4500 watt genny which I used to use when I was waiting for power drops from the power co. (I'm a semi retired builder) Anymore, I just wait for the power drop, and do something else. I hate running the damn thing. It's noisy, smelly, and needs frequent repair.

There are very few things that cannot be done without electricity, and most of them aren't real necessities anyway.

I also caution you that the cost of power from a generator can be many times that of electricity you purchase from the power company.

Bear in mind as well that a large percentage of the energy used by the genny (the potential energy in the gas, that is), is converted into HEAT. If you can use the wasted heat, it is not quite as big a waste as it otherwise would be.

I am quite well prepared for y2k (even if there had been serious problems), and I never even bothered to buy gas for my genny.

On the other hand, if you do decide to buy one, I suspect there will be a glut on the market soon, and you will be able to score a great deal. Maybe look at ebay.

-- jumpoff joe a.k.a. Al K. Lloyd (jumpoff@ekoweb.net), January 02, 2000.

A few ideas. After you decide how much power you need (do you want to be able to run ALL of the critical items at the same time, or spread out the use?), you need to decide what will power your genset.

Gasoline: Pro - available everywhere, can be used in your car to rotate your supply if you do not add preservatives. Moderately easy to start. Cheapest unit, initially. Con - dangerous to store, many cities and insurance policies strictly limit the amount you can store in a home (are you rural?) Gasoline fumes are explosive, unit should be outside but protected in its own shed. Unit produces CO. Must add either Sta-Bil or PRI-G for storage.

Propane: Pro - needs no additives for storage, easiest to start. Con - Unit and supply needs to stay outside, since propane is heavier than air.

Diesel : Pro - most duarable unit. Diesel fuel is the safest to store, can be stored indoors as fumes are smelly, but safe. Con - Most expensive unit. Fuel should have PRI-D and PRI-Ocide for long term storage. If fuel is stored outside and low temperatures are common, PRI-Flow should be added to the fuel. Unit usually requires electric start.

Now on the generator itself, home units are usually 3600 RPM or 1800 RPM. 3600 RPM units are only 2 pole and usually cheaper by far. 1800 RPM units are 4 pole and usually better built, better voltage regulation, longer life etc. Always more expensive too!

Please believe me when I say this is just the tip of the information iceberg. Study the above mentioned writings and go to for questions and answers.

Another thing is wiring. Are you going to have a transfer switch installed or just run extension cords? You can find simple transfer switchs like the GE unit, or conventional manual switches, or fancy automatic transfer swtches that will start the generator for you. Do NOT use a Kevorkian Cord (turn off mains switch, plug generator in through the electric dryer plug or other hair brained scheme)!

Ask LOTS of questions.

-- Ken Seger (kenseger@earthlink.net), January 03, 2000.

Oops, just noticed this. " I would want to run the frig and either the furnace/ air conditioning."

Running the frig an hour in morning, afternoon, and evening is fine. Put water bottles on the top shelf to act as a "thermal flywheel", ditto with freezer using salt water. Most modern furnaces use only a 1/3 or 1/2HP motor with a starting pull of 2-3kw.

Now air conditioning requires HUGE amounts of electricity. If you are talking of one window unit, fine. If you are talking of a whole house, you need to do some serious pencil pushing. The problem is the fact that motors require 2x (repulsion induction), 3x(capacitor), or 6x(split phase) the starting power, than they do to run. Modern furnaces and A/C units use capacitor start motors which pull about 3x the running power, this should be exceeded by the generator's "surge" or "peak" power. Please note this is NOT the same as LRA (locked rotor amps). Now please note that "soft start" controls can be added to both the furnace fan and the condensing compressor motor (the box outside) which will reduce starting draw. Also having a 5-10 second delay relay so that both the fan and compressor motor don't start at the same time helps too.

If you are trying to cool via a whole house unit, it very well might be most economical for you to replace your A/C. There are two reasons for this. 1 - If your A/C is a decade or so old, it is pathetically inefficient by modern standards. The savings in electricity over a 2-4 year period will literally pay for the cost of the new unit. 2 - Their is a new type of home A/C compressor called a "scroll type" which uses vastly less power to start than conventional units. Basically it's like the supercharger on engine. This would reduce the start up power requirement. Many times it is best to replace the furnace at the same time. Unless the installer is really bright and really thorough, matching (particularily the sheet metal work) a new A/C evaporation coil to an old furnace leads to inefficiency and noise. If you go with a new matched furnace get a condensing (not pulse) type. Again, new furnaces (particularily the condensing type) are so more efficient that you might save enough in 3-5 years to pay for the unit. Install soft starts and a delay relay on a new matched set and you will have vastly less power requirements for whole house air cooling.

Please note that the above has been geared to the biggest power draw, the start up. How many rooms you cool determines how long the genset-A/C has to run. If you, like a friend's wife require cooling for health reasons, please note that it CAN be done. However, if you are on a tight budget, cooling just one room with a window unit might be the way to go.

Further note on diesel. Pro - the fuel used at idle or no power is very little. This is why 18 wheelers just let their engines idle for long periods.

-- Ken Seger (kenseger@earthlink.net), January 04, 2000.

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