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Thread: Generator questions for newbie

  1. #1
    Join Date
    Mar 2006
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    Jacobsburg, OH
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    351

    Generator questions for newbie

    My husband and I are looking into getting a generator this year, for when storms take out the power. I've been reading and watching videos online but I'm still confused about some things.

    First, we want to use this generator to power a refrigerator (new in 2018), possibly an upright freezer (unknown age, but likely between 2001-2007), and maybe a space heater. It looks like I need something with 2000+ watts just for the fridge? Would I need to get a second one to run the freezer, or maybe just forget about running the freezer at all? We currently have things set up so that the high-value items like meat are all stored in the freezer of the fridge, and the upright freezer has things like bread, veggies, frozen dinners and pizzas, and breakfast items. So if we did lose everything in the freezer it wouldn't be that bad.

    Also, in looking at gas and propane powered generators, it says you can't run these indoors, which is understandable, but if I have this thing outdoors I see many problems. Like, they say do not expose the generator to wet conditions, snow, ice, or rain. This means it would have to be sheltered somehow outdoors. We have a shed we could put it in, but it also says not to use it in enclosed garages or sheds. So then, where do we put this thing? I can't let my shed stand open with a generator sitting in it or I won't have one for long. My shed has already been attempted to be broken into 3 times in the last year. So, where do I put this thing where it can run, be sheltered, and not be stolen?

    I looked into battery power stations instead, since they can be used indoors and are quiet. But the only batteries I have a fair amount of are Makita, and they don't make a power station. Ego has a decent looking one, but I have no batteries and the cost of the batteries for that are prohibitive. I looked at Jackeries, but I'm not sure they could handle running a fridge for a decent enough time.

    So, please, any information on this subject would be appreciated. Ideally we want to spend under $1,000. If we can only run one thing on it we need the fridge. We have a gas furnace but I'm not sure we can run it without electrical power. We live in a mobile home, and the furnace is mounted inside the wall of our laundry room, so we don't have good access to much other than the filter and a switch inside.

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Mar 2003
    Location
    SE PA - Central Bucks County
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    59,420
    The number one major rule with generators is they are outdoor products only. You can put a canopy over them to protect from weather, but they need to be "out in the breeze" for safety. Indoors would be the same as running your car in the garage with the door closed. Deadly. Did I happen to mention, "Deadly"?? If you are in an area where theft is going to be an issue and you're intending to use a portable generator, security while it's in use is going to have to be factored into your solution...a locked cage, for example. Not foolproof, but the harder something is to steal, the harder it is to steal, as it were. A whole house unit is more practical because it's a permanent installation that's hard to drag off.

    Generator sizing comes down to understanding what the maximum load will be with all the devices you want/need to be powered taken into consideration. Some devices require more power for "startup" than they do while running, but that startup draw can hose you if it happens at the same time as something else with similar characteristics. It gets harder because the wattage on many generators' marketing materials is "peak" wattage, not running wattage.

    Relative to your budget, keep in mind that in order to make transition to generator power fast and easy, you need some form of transfer panel that puts the circuits you want to cover separate so the generator can be plugged in to power them when needed while also isolating them from the main power source. Otherwise, you're going to be depending on extension cords...

    And yes, it's unlikely your gas furnace will function without power, both for ignition and also for the air handler that distributes the heated air.

    Battery solutions have similar hookup and sizing requirements. They are not in your budget, IMHO, by a long shot.
    --

    The most expensive tool is the one you buy "cheaply" and often...

  3. #3
    Laurie, I'm in the same boat as you. We had a terrible power outage last February (Texas) and I'm in the middle of planning for this winter. Generator is obviously ideal but incredibly cost-prohibitive. I have come to the conclusion that I cannot do what I "really want" without spending $20K+, so here is my plan in case we experience another freezemageddon:

    -I have lots of power banks. LOTS, that are always charging. Enough to run our mobile devices and laptops for days on end.
    -My wife ordinarily keeps quite a bit of proteins stored in our chest freezer. In the winter, we adopt a more lean stocking situation and only keep as much protein as could fit in the biggest ice chest we own. If the power goes out again, we transfer anything frozen into an ice chest and move it to the front porch or garage. It will stay frozen out there, at least. This worked great for us last February.

    Basically, we have abandoned the notion of being able to adequately power any major appliances during another event and just plan around it. Not sure if this is helpful but just my thoughts.

    Erik
    Felder USA Territory Representative: Central & South Texas

  4. #4
    I can't offer any useful suggestions to Laurie but have some for Eric. There is no reason to spend $20k for a whole house generator. 5 years ago my wife and I had an electrical contractor put in a propane powered 14kw whole house Generac with automatic transfer switch and auto load shifting/shedding. I cost us slightly over $7000 including the outrageous pricing for the first fill of 200 gallons of propane. In TX you should be able to use the natural gas version. If something the size of our setup is $20k in TX someone is price gouging.
    Dave Anderson
    Chester Toolworks LLC
    Chester, NH

  5. #5
    Mrs. Brown, just some suggestions based on budget... A whole-house generator and automatic transfer switch might be out of reach.

    Can you install louvers in the wall and/or eaves of your shed - and still keep it secure? Maybe a vent stack out the roof? Mr. Becker is 'dead on' in his recommendation - NEVER run a generator inside living quarters, or even an attached garage! But you could perhaps run it securely inside a vacant shed - so long as the space is well vented, no nearby combustibles, and NEVER, NEVER refuel while running.

    Depending on weather conditions (cold?), you can probably use a relatively small generator to operate appliances on an as-needed basis, using extension cords: lighting via lamps; a microwave when needed; run a freezer during nighttime hrs (get a good hard freeze on contents, then let it sit during the day); run a refrigerator during the day (when you are in/out of it, then temp will better hold at night). Unplug the reefer or freezer, long enough to use the micro, then you need only size the generator to operate 1 major appliance at a time.

    That leaves heat. Small electrical (resistance) heaters - also on extension cords - in the living spaces are possible, but will have a significant power draw. You will get much better efficiency using the gas heat, but you'd need some way to power the fan/t-stat from the generator. I'll suggest you contact an electrician for how to safely provide this connection.

    Generator could be sized to simultaneously power 1 appliance + heat + a small lighting load. (And I hope you have gas water heater.)

    Highly inconvenient, tiring, and risky if you have little ones, but my brother has done this for >1 week in hurricane aftermath. His 'shed' was detached garage w/ gable vents & side door left open.

  6. #6
    Join Date
    Jul 2007
    Location
    NE OH
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    1,959
    Laurie, we got by for years with a gasoline powered 3500 watt portable generator. We kept it in the garage, and wheeled it a few feet outside when we needed to run it. It only needs to be outside when it is running. I used to just put an old card table over it to keep heavy rain off it while it was running. We ran extension cords from the generator to the "stuff" we needed to run, including the fridge. Eventually we upgraded to a 5500 watt unit as that one wasn't big enough to run our well pump when we moved to our new house, and I put in a transfer panel to avoid having to run extension cords.

    A 2000 watt generator will likely run your fridge, and probably one of the freezers too. The thing with freezers is they are well insulated, so can do without power for quite a while if you don't keep opening them. And while inconvenient, in a pinch you can run the fridge for a few hours, then one of the freezers, then the other freezer, etc. But I would buy a larger unit if it's in your budget.

    Keep in mind that generators use a lot of fuel, be it gas or propane, so you have to store fuel as well.
    --Certainty is the refuge of a small mind--

  7. #7
    My wife got me this Harbor Freight 3500/3000w Predator for Xmas 3 years ago--
    generator.jpg
    -I have nothing but good things to say about it!
    Electric start, extremely quiet, doesn't use much gas, works great!

    The thing sits in the back of my pickup about 8 months of the year, it sits in the blazing sun, it's been rained and snowed on countless times, other than the pretty stickers are sunbeaten, it works perfectly. I used it several times this summer when working on our houseboat (someone stole my big 10g extension cord ) -I found out first of the season the starting battery went dead. But in never failed to pull-start on one tug. And a 10 year old could easily pull start this thing.

    It's more $$ than other 3500 genny's but unlike those this one can sit outside the living room window and barely be heard when running. And it's REALLY easy to start when the battery ain't dead
    ========================================
    ELEVEN - rotary cutter tool machines
    FOUR - CO2 lasers
    THREE- make that FOUR now - fiber lasers
    ONE - vinyl cutter
    CASmate, Corel, Gravostyle


  8. #8
    Quote Originally Posted by Paul F Franklin View Post
    Laurie, we got by for years with a gasoline powered 3500 watt portable generator. We kept it in the garage, and wheeled it a few feet outside when we needed to run it. It only needs to be outside when it is running. I used to just put an old card table over it to keep heavy rain off it while it was running. We ran extension cords from the generator to the "stuff" we needed to run, including the fridge. Eventually we upgraded to a 5500 watt unit as that one wasn't big enough to run our well pump when we moved to our new house, and I put in a transfer panel to avoid having to run extension cords.

    A 2000 watt generator will likely run your fridge, and probably one of the freezers too. The thing with freezers is they are well insulated, so can do without power for quite a while if you don't keep opening them. And while inconvenient, in a pinch you can run the fridge for a few hours, then one of the freezers, then the other freezer, etc. But I would buy a larger unit if it's in your budget.

    Keep in mind that generators use a lot of fuel, be it gas or propane, so you have to store fuel as well.
    This is what I'd do, keep it in the garage until you need it. If you can remember to do it, start it about once a month. It'd be a mess if it didn't start when you needed it.

    Mike
    Go into the world and do well. But more importantly, go into the world and do good.

  9. #9
    Join Date
    Dec 2006
    Location
    Toronto Ontario
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    10,650
    I built a “dog house” with louvered sides and a hinged roof for a 5Kw gasoline powered generator.

    It kept the elements off it while it was running.

    If you don’t use a transfer switch, make sure you buy one with the neutral bonded to the frame and run a ground wire to the frame……Rod

  10. #10
    Join Date
    Sep 2007
    Location
    Upstate NY
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    3,696
    I used to have a Honda 2kw. For two 1 week outages it ran my fridge, freezer, furnace, TV, computer gear, and a light just fine. It tripped once; presumably because two things tried to start at precisely the same time. I was lucky to find a cheap used transfer switch.

    It is prudent to have the smallest possible generator, as gas can be difficult to find and it can't really be stored. A propane generator is great as propane can be stored, and is probably more available than gasoline in an emergency. But they are more expensive.

    Now I have an 8kw whole house generator. I think it was $6,000 10 years ago. It is great, but way out of your price range. I probably never use more than 3 kw, but it is the smallest they make.

  11. #11
    Join Date
    Sep 2007
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    Upstate NY
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    Quote Originally Posted by Rod Sheridan View Post

    If you don’t use a transfer switch, make sure you buy one with the neutral bonded to the frame and run a ground wire to the frame……Rod
    I researched that 20 years ago and it was recommended NOT to do that. I doubt anything has changed.

  12. #12
    Join Date
    Sep 2010
    Location
    Livonia, Michigan
    Posts
    771
    Hi Ms. Brown,

    There's a couple of things to consider. An standard 120 volt electric space heater uses 1500 watts and puts out about 5100 btus. So it's always drawing around 12.5 amps. You could aways put it on medium or low and cut the power consumption. The good thing about a space heater is there's no surge when you turn it on. The bad thing about a space heater is that it *always* consumes a lot of power. You're way better off getting the generator to run the furnace and skip the space heater if possible.

    If your refrigerator has an ice maker turn it off when on a generator. They use power and add heat to the freezer.

    We had a refrigerator that my wife got from her great-grandmother. It wasn't an antique but pretty old. When it ran it used 300 watts. When starting up the surge power was 1450 watts. A large side by side will use more power but once running a fridge isn't a huge power load.

    Rod Sheridan is absolutely correct when he mentions bonding the neutral to the frame. Not just for safety but I've seen where a gas furnace will go into flame failure if the power source isn't grounded correctly.

    If your mobile home is in a park with close neighbors the noise it makes is going to be a large consideration.

    A guy I worked with lived in northwest Detroit and had frequent power outages. Leaving a generator outside wasn't an option unless it was constantly watched by someone with a shotgun (we callled that fun in rootin' tootin' Detroit). He put his in a detached garage, ran extention cords to his house. He closed the garage doors. It ran for about 2 hours and quit. Turns out it had consumed all the air in his drafty 80 year old garage and died. If it had been an attached garage it could have killed both him and his wife. A generator needs a lot of fuel, lots of air, a place for the heat they create to go, and a place for the exhaust to go without hurting anyone.

    Oh, and since this is a wood working forum, the burning question everyone should be asking:

    How much power does your shop need?



    -Tom

  13. #13
    I have a 9kw LP Generac with the whole house transfer switch. The transfer switch was installed in ‘15 and the gen in ‘19. Pricey and an involved install but really nice for our frequent safety shut-downs here in CA. I too would suggest you look at the HF Predator units. 3500-5000 watt units would be my choice. Honda’s are the top of the line in the small gas jobs, but I know a number of people who have been happy with their Predators for a fraction of the cost. Running an electric space heater on a gen is a loosing proposition as noted. I use LP vent free heaters in shut-downs and loan them out to friends in need. I think a fridge takes about 1.25-1.5 kw, but check yours. In an outage you can rotate the load, frig, freezer, frig and lights. Also, check the Predator site and they will help you size the gen. Security? Chain it so the chain and lock are hard to get at. Shut it off at night and put it back in the shed and leave the frig closed. Get a good thermometer and monitor the frig temp during the cycles. First thing in the morning fire it up for the coffee maker.

  14. #14
    Join Date
    Dec 2006
    Location
    Toronto Ontario
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    10,650
    Quote Originally Posted by Wade Lippman View Post
    I researched that 20 years ago and it was recommended NOT to do that. I doubt anything has changed.
    That’s incorrect.

    If it’s a portable generator not tied into a system with a transfer switch the neutral must be bonded to ground and the frame grounded.

    If you don’t do that you have a floating system.


    Regards, Rod.
    If you do use a transfer switch,Mathew generator neutral must be floating, grounding of the generator frame remains a requirement.

  15. #15
    Join Date
    Sep 2006
    Location
    Shenandoah Valley in Virginia
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    774
    If you buy a portable generator then I recommend buying one that will run on propane (or a dual fuel, gas/or/propane)...
    The reason for that is if you ONLY use propane to run it, then you do not have to start it except when you need it..
    If you NEVER use gasoline in it, the carb will stay clean all the time... If you ever use gasoline in it, then you can expect the carb to gum up unless you run it on a regular basis...

    We bought a 5kw dual fuel unit and it supplies our needs... refrigerator, lights, tv's. computers, wifi, etc..
    We use 20# propane tanks... a full tank will run about a day with the above load on it.. about 1.5kw...
    We keep several propane tanks on hand (we use them on grill, etc.)

    Again, if you use only propane on it, the carb stays clean and you only have to start it when you need it...The most important reason for us to only use propane.
    Last edited by Ed Aumiller; 11-09-2021 at 9:45 PM.

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