• Post Sandy Question #2: Generator

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  • Having gone through Sandy I'm interested in investing in a good generator. I'm pondering either a gasoline powered one you essentially run electric chords from, or spending the money to get a true backup generator that runs off the house's gas supply. I can't spend $10k (kids' college fund and all that) but could swing upto $3k or so. Recommendations?

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    Question by xtian

For $3k you could easily source a 6kw NG backup generator. A quick check of pricing looks like $1700 for the generator, leaving $1300 to hire someone to run a gas line, someone to run the electrical output to a transfer box, and maybe another person to set the generator onto a good footing. Pulling permits and getting it inspected would also be costs to consider. Your local utility might even offer a one-stop service for all of the above.

For my father, he'd be looking at propane. Propane has higher energy content and while he doesn't have access to a propane pipeline, he does have a Jeep and local propane refillers. He'd be looking at the same generator, only producing 7kw instead and powered by manually attaching bottles. His transfer mechanism would necessarily be manual, but essentially the same concept.

You should size, roughly, according to the attached circuits in your existing panel and look for what's essential as opposed to what's total. Total, you might have 200 amp service but you would likely not need all of that, maybe not even 60 amps (about four 15 amp outlets). 60 Amps is usually enough to handle a refrigerator, furnace, hot water heater, microwave, and range. Not surprisingly, your kitchen is your most essential room in the house.


Answer by christopher

Christopher's answer is excellent.

If you don't want to go "built in", though, you can get your own power going with a less complexity. Large portable generators will make enough juice to run sump pumps, gas-powered furnaces, refrigerators, TVs, lights, ceiling/pedestal fans, microwave ovens.

There are two tricks to doing this: A good reliable generator, of course (the best are made by Honda), and a small circuit-specific transfer box. Let me clarify: The usual "generator Transfer Switch" transfers the entire power input to your home from commercial to local generator. In my home, with a generator too small to push the AC unit, etc., I used a smaller sort of transfer box with a half-dozen switches - each switch works as a small-scale manual transfer switch for specific circuits out of the main breaker box.

This is a lot simpler than it sounds. The nut of it is that it's installed next to the main breaker panel, there's a heavy line connecting it to the generator, and that's all the wire I had to run. No extension cords all over the place like my neighbors.

It's simple enough that, when I'm not around, my wife's able to get the whole thing set up & running without too much trouble. Thanks to Honda for making engines so easy to start.

(And don't forget to use Stabil with your fuel stash.)

Answer by wayne ruffner

I set up the house for backup wood heating and bought a chainsaw and a lot of canned goods and candles instead. Generators are not really any good for a long term; do you want to spend all day every day in a gas line for weeks or months? Think about what you actually NEED, and how you can get your own property to support you. You may have to do a genny anyway, if nobody in your neighborhood has fresh water or creates food, but if you can heat the house on deadfall and busted furniture you can run the genny for short periods each day, at least, to chill down the fridge and recharge your small batteries (laCrosse nimh chargers recommended highly).

Note modern furniture often can't survive the temperature and humidity swings of an unheated, partially heated or point-heated home. Differential expansion and contraction of materials will rack the frames and spring the joints; even all-wood furniture has to be engineered to withstand the difference between movement with and across the grain (all metal's good, but not very comfortable). Buy (real) windsor chairs and stuff like that, that was designed to last a hundred years before central air was invented, and you won't regret it if humidity or temperatures vary wildly.

Answer by medievalist
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