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Sun Nov 24, 2013, 11:01 AM

Help...I am a Babe in the Woods of emergency generators!

I live in a small (under 1,000 square feet) cottage in New Jersey and I need to buy my first generator.

I'm a woman who has never felt comfortable around electricity or gasoline but I really need to get this all together and figure it out. Most of my neighbors are helpful and handy type guys..In fact one of them is my electrician.

I am looking for something that will run a few lights, the fridge and my computer. I would like to set it up with a separate electrical panel as well.

Can I please get some recommendations and advise???

Hopefully not too expensive and really easy to use. Safe as possible too.

I get the best info here.

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Reply Help...I am a Babe in the Woods of emergency generators! (Original post)
Walk away Nov 2013 OP
lumberjack_jeff Nov 2013 #1
Walk away Nov 2013 #2
lumberjack_jeff Nov 2013 #4
Walk away Nov 2013 #5
lumberjack_jeff Nov 2013 #6
Walk away Nov 2013 #7
X_Digger Nov 2013 #3
Walk away Nov 2013 #8
X_Digger Nov 2013 #9
Nac Mac Feegle Nov 2013 #10
Crazypolitics25 Mar 2014 #11
Walk away Mar 2014 #12

Response to Walk away (Original post)

Sun Nov 24, 2013, 11:52 AM

1. The best way.

 

TL;DR alert.

The power that comes into your house is 240v alternating current in three wires. Two black "hot" wires and a white neutral. The voltage between each of the hot wires and the neutral is 120v. The voltage between the two hot wires is 240v.

Each black wire powers half of the circuit breakers in the electrical panel - half of the 120v breakers are powered by one black wire, the rest by the other black wire. Notice how 240 breaker for your water heater is twice as wide as the 120v breakers? That's because 240v breakers are "double pole" meaning that they draw power from both of the incoming black wires.

You *can* simply install another 240v breaker and wire it to a receptacle into which you plug your generator. It is also hugely dangerous. The power on the poles is some very large voltage, probably 480v. The transformer reduces the voltage at the pole to 240v for use in your house. When the power goes out because a power line is down, anyone with a generator connected in this way is supplying 240v to the transformer, and therefore 480v to the power lines on which the lineman is working.

The solution is called a "lockout" breaker. Depending on how your electrical panel is laid out, it may be possible to install a 240v lockout breaker next to your main breaker that prevents both from being on at the same time. This enables you to power anything in your house without risk of energizing the wires outside your house.

Wiring your house is a lot of hassle and expense and maintaining yet another gasoline engine is too. Something else to consider is your purpose. Do you live in a place in which the power regularly goes out for a day or two each winter, or are you preparing for a major emergency (i.e. hurricane) that kills power for two weeks? In the latter case, what is the likelihood of being able to easily obtain fuel for a generator?

What I would do is to buy a marine deep cycle battery and an inverter. (total cost maybe $200) Keep the battery plugged in to a trickle charger (and not on a concrete floor), and if the lights go out, bring the battery and inverter into the house and plug in your fridge. The battery should be able to keep the fridge cold (which requires about 1500 watts intermittently) for at least a day or two, and if it goes dead before the power is restored, you can recharge it using your car and jumper cables. The main benefit of this system is the whole system can be inside your house.

In theory, it should be possible to rig up your entire house with a semi-permanent 240v UPS. The wiring would be similar to that required for an emergency generator.

If you think that only a generator will do, I would buy a 5000 watt unit ($700) and have an electrician install a circuit ($700?)

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Response to lumberjack_jeff (Reply #1)

Sun Nov 24, 2013, 12:03 PM

2. I like the battery idea for a short outage....

are they dangerous? Why no concrete floor? can I just keep it plugged into a regular outlet until I need it?

As far as the generator goes, after Sandy I think it's a good idea to have one here. I can get gas (there is a station 2 blocks away) and any electrical work will get done by my electrician.

Where is the safest place to keep your generator? Do you know anything about the easiest brands to use?

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Response to Walk away (Reply #2)

Sun Nov 24, 2013, 12:24 PM

4. batteries stored on concrete...

 

ignore that part.

Back in the day, batteries could self-discharge by sitting on concrete because the bodies were kind of porous. I guess I'm now officially a "back in the day" kind of guy.

Yes, you would keep it plugged in to a battery charger until you need it.

After Sandy, did the nearby gas station have uninterrupted power and was it regularly resupplied with gas?

Keep a generator in a shed or garage. Keep fuel stabilizer in the tank and start it every few months, summer and winter. Better yet, run it empty after each use. I'd be willing to bet that a third of generators won't start when the power goes out because ethanol in the fuel attracts water and turns to a gel in the carburetor.

Lead acid batteries are safer and more reliable. The danger of batteries is that if you drop them, the shell could crack and let the acid out, so I wouldn't store one inside my house. They're also worth about $10 at the scrapyard so keep it out of sight of the tweakers.

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Response to Walk away (Reply #5)

Sun Nov 24, 2013, 03:14 PM

6. 55 amp-hours is not very much capacity.

 

55ah * 12 volts = 660 watt hours. It would power your refrigerator for about a 45 minutes of total run time... maybe keep your food cold for eight hours or so.

It's essentially a small deep cycle battery packaged with a 1500w inverter and a charger.

This battery for example has 125 amp-hours, and when attached to a 3000w inverter, will power your fridge for at least a day. You could simply add batteries to increase capacity.

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Response to lumberjack_jeff (Reply #6)

Sun Nov 24, 2013, 07:58 PM

7. I was thinking of using the battery just for the computer and TV/cable

But I can see that 125 amp hours makes more sense even for that. See...that's why I come here. Thanks.

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Response to Walk away (Original post)

Sun Nov 24, 2013, 12:10 PM

3. The most complex / expensive single part will be the 'separate electrical panel'..

If you don't want to mess with gasoline and extension cords, the best option is a propane unit. They automatically switch on in the event of power failure, and can also power your HVAC if sized appropriately. Heck, you can run your whole house on one.

Your electrician neighbor will have to set up a special circuit, and depending on whether or not the lines ran to your fridge, lights, and computer are separate or part of a larger run, you might end up running new cable. Labor for that can be expensive, depending on whether or not you have a crawl space, a basement, a slab, etc etc.

The downside to the auto-start propane generators is cost. You could be facing $8-10k (in my area) with labor for the generator, tank, running new circuits, the special generator panel, and fixing drywall holes if you have to tear into the walls to run new circuits.

One step down from that would be a generator with an electric starter- no tugging on cords. They can be wired into the same kind of panel as the propane generator, but they cost a couple thousand less than the big propane units.

Another step down would be the pull-start generator and extension cords. Having cords ran through the house is a pain in the backside, not to mention having to pull out the fridge to get to the plug, refilling the tank during an outage, and the noise.

I've got a 5.5kw gas generator on hand for my marine reef aquarium that I also use for our fridge and computers.

Oh, one other thing- if you do end up with a portable generator, be sure to rig up a way to make it theft-proof.

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Response to X_Digger (Reply #3)

Sun Nov 24, 2013, 08:06 PM

8. I think I'm going to look for a portable to run the fridge and some lights off of ....

and get a backup battery for my laptop and phone charger. I'm not too worried about theft since I have a great big 6 foot fence and there hasn't been a theft in my neighborhood in decades. I am surrounded by police. Even police officers from other towns live here and an FBI agent.

I'm more worried that I'll buy the wrong thing.

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Response to Walk away (Reply #8)

Mon Nov 25, 2013, 01:26 AM

9. Well, an entry-level gas generator would handle the fridge and some lights.

You could also plug in the UPS running your laptop & charger. 2.5kw-3.5kw would give you watts to spare.

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Response to Walk away (Original post)

Sat Nov 30, 2013, 03:17 PM

10. One thing to keep in mind

Your internet service may not work if the power is out. The equipment that provides the signal to you may be down, too.

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Response to Walk away (Original post)

Thu Mar 27, 2014, 01:56 AM

11. Size the generator to the house

One important thing is to size the generator to the house meaning work out what you really need to run during a power outage and buy an appropriately sized generator in terms of power output.
Here's a link to the Briggs & Stratton generator calculator site [link:http://www.briggsandstratton.com/us/en/generators/portable-generators/portable-generators-101/how-much-power-do-i-need?sort=home|

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Response to Crazypolitics25 (Reply #11)

Thu Mar 27, 2014, 07:31 AM

12. Thanks! Just in time.

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