Backup power for my folks (and likely for me as well)

My parents live in rural AR and have been seeing a slight uptick in commercial power failures. They’ve been mulling a generator for some time, however their power requirements are rather modest - a refrigerator, a deep freeze, personal electronics (phones, tablets, a laptop) - and they’re more than willing to manual mode the switchover with extension cords so as to avoid the various and many problems with suicide cords and not pay the money to get a transfer switch installed. A relatively small inverter generator could handle all of these things, however it needs stabilized fuel storage, periodic anti-atrophy usage, absolutely has to be run outside, and will require periodic maintenance.

I’m wondering if a modest deep cycle battery (or batteries), decent inverter, and lead-acid battery charger wouldn’t meet their requirements better, for less, with the option to supplement with a generator or even solar if they so desire. The deep freeze and refrigerator can be run for a few hours a day; electronics operation and charging can also be similarly pulsed. I feel like the entire setup can be put into a rack in the corner of their garage with a voltmeter across the battery leads and some guidelines on when to stop running the inverter. I’m not sure what kind of lifetime to expect from the deep-cycle batteries, whether such a setup can be easily upgraded, nor what my support liability will be from afar.

A downside of this approach is that some of the folks’ stretch goals - operating a small window unit as well as running their pellet stove - is unlikely. The former because of the sheer power requirements of air conditioning and the latter for reasons of medium power demands as well as being hardwired into the house.

4 Likes

I have no idea, but I’m buckled in for this project…

If you’re not going to get them a whole house Generac unit, at least spend the cash and get them a generator that runs off of propane. Less worry over stabilized gas and easy to find refills - or if they have a tank out back for home cooking/heating then use that.

3 Likes

Re: genetator. My folks lived in rural OK (yeah almost redundant). They had a 250 gal propane tank and the generator they got was set up for propane. No extra gas to store, go stale, burns clean and oil stays clean.

Would recommend this if they have propane. As close to maintenance and hassle free as possible. No gummy carbs, etc.’

LOL - saw Raymond’s after I submitted mine. But well worth. If in city and Natural gas, only way to go.

1 Like

You’ll still have this issue with batteries, so consider that. If I were to do this with batteries I would really want to try nickel iron cells, they look like fun. Realistically though, a generator is a far cheaper and much more accessible.

2 Likes

You read the general requirements, no?

Dad’s really set on a Honda EU2200i or similar. Something that puts out a nice stable 120V @ 60Hz. All the propane models I’ve come across are far larger and look to have mufflers that aspire to be as effective as the typical lawnmower’s.

They have a propane grill with the standard exchange tank (20lb?) but that’s it. Doubt they’re going to invest in a bulk tank for the house just for this.

I should have mentioned that hey have a number of outdoor power tools, thus tend to have 5+ gallons of gas onhand that’s reasonably fresh, so fuel storage isn’t a new problem a gas generator would introduce.

No such luxury at the folks’ house.

What I’m reading on maximizing the life of deep cycle cells states:

  • Charge them as slowly as possible
  • Mind your depth of discharge
  • Don’t overcharge them
  • Add distilled water if the cells are low

The latter point shouldn’t be too difficult to manage.

My experience - and my folks experience - with small engines has been one of disappointing reliability. As such I do wonder if a generator - with its many complex parts - is apt to be less reliable in a moment of need than deep cycle battery/batteries and an inverter.

COTS gear to handle this doesn’t appear to be quite as widely-available as deep cycle batteries.

An overkill pure sine wave inverter is about $250. A 100Ah deep cycle battery is about $200. Another $100 or so would probably net the balance of components for the system (battery charger, volt meter, perhaps even better cables). My father might enjoy making a nice cabinet for it with provisions for maintenance and allowing any errant hydrogen that might be generated to escape.

2 Likes

A 100Ah battery will provide the same power as the EU2200i… For about 15 minutes. Might power a fridge and deep freezer for a little less than a day. They have a thermostat, I doubt unplugging them half the time will significantly change the total energy they use over a day (it’s still equal to the energy lost through the insulation, which doesn’t change) since they’ll just run the compressor more when they are plugged in.

I’ll vouch for the reliability of the Honda engines. 10 years on ours now and it hasn’t had major issues. You’re not likely to get 10 years of use out of your lead acid battery.

You didn’t mention how long of a power outage you want to cover. If they’re worried about a deep freezer I assumed we were talking a few days to a week. If you don’t size your batteries right, or an outage lasts longer than you planned, you’ll be SOL. A generator would give you the option of finding some gas and continuing on.

1 Like

If they have a large propane tank already.

https://genconnexdirect.net/honda_propane_modified_generators.htm

Even a 20 lb propane tank will likely provide run time similar to 5 gallons of gas, without risk to fouling the carb. And some of the conversions allow for dual fuel. A few 20 lb cylinders should give considerable run time.

If they ever decide they need more capacity, they do parallel nicely. You could even get the companion model with 1 15A socket and 1 30A 120V twist lock socket.

They also seem to have by far the cleanest output power of any inverter generator.

1 Like

Yes, but you’re made of money… bust loose with some! Your mother carried you for 9 months! She changed your diapers and fed you until you could feed yourself and go to the bathroom by yourself. It’s the least you could do.

:moneybag:

:crazy_face:

Several years back we purchased an earlier version of the Honda EU2200 for use with an RV. I put a third party carb on it to allow propane and it has worked out wonderfully. The Honda Companion was mentioned above and provides an excellent upgrade option.

1 Like

I have the Honda 2,200 and the 3,000 if they are planning on running it outside and just running a few items like a fridge/lamps and a mini AC the 2000 works well. That being said if they are ever wanting to run more I would recommend the 3000.

A couple significant changes

The 3,000 is key start I would rather my aging parents have a electric start than trying to pull the cord.
It has a 30 amp plug if you ever going to hook it up to a small transfer switch.
It’s quieter than the 2000

Notably if the expectation is to move it than the 2000 is significantly lighter at around 50 pounds I would estimate the 3000 is around 100 to 120 with fuel either way getting wheels is probably a good idea.

I ultimately hooked my 3000 in with this transfer switch


and a old enterprise UPS I got for cheap that I put in some new lead battery.

It was a good setup for cheap.

The UPS would hold the load for your few seconds to about 30 min and it gives you time to turn the key on the generator.

Notably if they are out in the country and you don’t have to go through a bunch of permits there are deals to be had if you have a truck/trailer.

Best long term solution is absolutely a large propane tank and a whole house generator as it’s a PITA to go start the generator in the middle of a storm if that is the primary use case.

NOTE: If anyone is looking at that APC Transfer Switch the worst design flaw it had was these glass fuses inside they are a PITA to get to and they are tricky to get they are at Home Depot but in rural areas, I would buy spares.

2nd Note: Upon reflection if I was trying to save cash and it was strictly for comfort and it’s not imperative that a mechanic would need to be able to work on it and did not need parts immediately available.

I would be tempted for HF the reviews are solid and at $700 for a 3000 watt inverter generator it’s hard to beat.

2 Likes

I’m well aware of the immense energy density of gasoline vs battery - even accounting for the perhaps 20% conversion efficiency of a small generator.

They’re not looking to be able to run the appliances like nothing has changed. During briefer power outages of up to 24 hours they didn’t open them at all and nothing spoiled.

Longest they’ve experienced so far is around 72 hours. Lack of power for communications electronics was their main issue, although I suspect some of the refrigerator’s contents may have spoiled. Not sure they touched the deep freeze - which has some margin built in due to how cold its contents get.

Powering up the setup for an hour or so a day seems like it would allow for several days of “open the door to get food once a day” standby on the appliances while recharging phones.

Always a risk that an outage will go on longer than one has the resources to cope - obviously easier to buy a few gallons of gas (or swap propane cylinders) than to deal with depleted deep-cycle batteries.

They don’t even have the proposed window unit so a ~2kW nominal unit seems like it’s all the power they’d need for their minimal expectations.

Portability is important for this application since a generator would sit in the garage when idle then be moved out to a porch for operation, with extension cables run into the house/garage for appliance / electronics operation.

That’s part of my struggle with generators. My parents are nearly in their 70s. Dad is somewhat adventurous and willing to jump through some hoops to make thing work at a lesser degree. Mom isn’t as adventurous when it comes to power outages but willing to adapt to reduced functionality for several days. My sense of their present budget is that it’s perhaps $1000 all told which leaves little room for anything more than a portable/lightweight generator and minimal accessories.

That would be the ideal long-term goal, but that’s a solid 5 figure expenditure with ongoing maintenance commitments. The recent prolonged power outage was due to strong winds taking out the power lines along the road without the stereotypical storm.

1 Like

Assuming no multiday outages and medical requirements that require electricity.

It’s tough to beat the HF 3500 799 retail coupon down to 700


and that APC Transfer Switch for 400.

1,100 and gives you turn key option.

It sucks to have to pull fridges back to plug them in and running extension cords all over the house.

I feel confident you could install that transfer switch yourself.

Your mom could just go out turn the key on the generator and it would be automatic from there.

In the future you can add on if you want the transfers switch to turn on the generator for you.
In the future could also convert to propane.

Notably most rural areas you can “lease” a tank for free as long as you get propane through them it’s not to bad but likely a bit much if nothing else on the property requires propane.

Everyone loves anecdotes, right?
My brother has a HF generator given to him by a friend, as a gift, for running power equipment on his property before electric service was installed. The short story: he’s used the heck out of it for several years now; much longer than the intended 6 months or so of intended service. “Lucky”, as it is now known, is a pull start, and keeps on truckin’.
The longer story:
“Lucky”, formerly known as “the generator” plugged away pluckily for the “6 months but now a year” of daily grind of house building and food prep for which it was purchased. Remove from truck. Install fuel. Pull once to start. Plug in whatever you need. Run all day. Unplug stuff. Put back in truck for drive home. Repeat next day.
One day, the plastic cover securing the pull-start to “the generator”'s main body dropped off. Literally. Touched it, and it fell off onto the ground. No biggy. This guy’s been a champ. Let’s go get another! Off to HF. New unit in hand, attempt same procedure as first round with “the generator”. Remove from box. Fuel up. Pull once to start. Try again. And again. And again. And again… Troubleshoot to find no spark. Curse. Reverse pour of fuel into unit. Curse. Return to HF. Request exchange. Surprisingly compliant clerk smiles, hands across new unit. Repeat. Exactly. Including the round trip to HF. Where the clerk proffers a third unit. Repeat. Exactly. Right up until the clerk smilingly hands over a new unit. Instead, clerk states “we have no others in stock”. Right. Ask for refund. Smiling clerk coughs up refund. Return to worksite. Pack up unused tools. Head home. Browse Internet looking for “decent generators”. Decide, on a whim, to peruse parts for HF generators. Ah Ha! moment! $25 delivered, new front plastics, complete with rip cord. 3 long, generator-less agonizing days later, it’s on the porch. 10 minutes later, it’s on the unit. Fill with fuel. Pull once. Use all day. Repeat. Thus, “Lucky”, the star, is born. 3 years later, every once in a while, “Lucky” is put into action. Usually on a property without power for some reason. Truck to site. Fill with fuel. Pull once to start. Plug in whatever. Use all day. Unplug stuff. Return to truck. Take home.
My point?
Sometimes you get “Lucky” with Harbor Freight…

2 Likes

Collect enough of them and you have data, right?

2 Likes

Point being that you’ll spend just as much on batteries to get an hour of full load as you would the generator. By the time you actually size the battery bank for use it will be just as costly if not more than the generator.

Remember the energy used by a refrigerator won’t change much just because you unplug it for hours at a time. All it means is that when you plug it back in the compressor will run much longer than normal to cool it back down. Raising the setpoint or keeping the door closed will help you save gas on that generator they’re going to end up with.

With that in mind, a three day runtime for a fridge, deep freezer, and some electronics. Low end for a fridge is 1kWh/day, deep freezer 0.5kWh/day, and if you’re charging two phones and a laptop that’s like 0.2kWh/day. For three days we need approx 5kWh of battery, lead acids only have maybe 60% of their nominal capacity as useable so that means 7 of your 100Ah batteries to make it. More than twice what you had the budget for. And forget any of the stretch goals. They’re going to struggle to meet the bare minimum requirements and stay in budget.

A generator on the other hand… a strict budget would require an EU1000i which isn’t really intended to run a fridge but I think can do it, depending on the model. It provides 250W for 7 hours on 0.6gal of gas. That’s 1.8kWh so to meet the 5kWh requirement we’d need the generator ($860) and 3 gallons of gas (variable, <$15). Not only did we come in under budget, we have room to expand, plenty of capacity for the unexpected durations, a solution that’s easier fixed with a screwdriver and wrench (opposed to a soldering iron and scope), and something widely adopted by the majority of people living in storm prone areas. In case I drastically overestimated their 5kWh requirement, you’re looking at 2.1kWh from $1000 in battery/inverter.

So it’s more expensive, less understood, harder to repair, less expandable, less versatile, has a shorter lifespan, less plug and play, and can leave you high and dry in an outage lasting any longer than the system was designed for. Why are we even considering this again?

1 Like

If you expectations are that your in-door icemaker and water dispenser will remain operational, sure, there are no shortcuts. If the idea is to preserve food and allow the refrigerator to get warmer than normal then there are savings to be had. Yes, restoration of mains power will result in that compressor running at full load until temperatures are again down to preset - especially for the refrigerator. Freezers have bigger margins, however when it comes to the basics of food preservation.

I and my father have had a number of occasions where murdering the malicious cretins that conspired to design small engines to fail at the exact wrong moment necessitating all but impossible-to-install parts short of a bespoke jig and curious amounts of unreasonably precise force have occurred - with multiple engines across a range of manufacturers following maintenance procedures and in the case of some engines (lawn tractor, other power equipment) having seasonal maintenance performed by the dealer. This is admittedly not the most rational thinking, but experiences leave their mark and thus my reluctance when warranty service on portable generators is largely a you lug it affair to the retailer for exchange or an RMA and freight if the OEM decides to service it. Sure, buy quality - ala Honda - and probably not have to worry about it. Probably.

Also, a battery bank + inverter is also just more interesting to me than a generator.

However, a generator is looking to be the interim solution in spite of this reluctance. The problems are two-fold:

  • Short Term : As Robert has pointed out is expectations management - are my senior parents willing to mess with a limited-capacity rope-start generator, shuffle appliances around, and snake extension cords throughout the house? What about in five or ten years?
  • Long Term : The realities of aging need to be considered - perhaps they’ll be better off by investing in seamless whole-house capability since their ability to go through the hoops of dealing with a portable generator is likely to decline and they may become reliant upon steady electrical service

As mentioned, the folks’ present budget is ~$1000 and I’m not entirely sure this will provide a satisfactory solution whenever they have to scramble to set it up during the next outage. If they insist, a portable/lightweight generator is looking like the solution I’m going to recommend in spite of my baises.

As an alternative freeze water my grandparents used to use 2 liter bottles and when the power goes out they put a few in the fridge and rely on thermal mass to keep everything else cold.

For Cell Phones use 1 or 2 they work well and cheap.

1 Like

Long term the answer might be solar and batteries then (a single powerwall is 13.5kWh). Gets you away from small engines, cool solution, and doesn’t leave you high and dry in a disaster.

Pricier, but might help when it comes time to sell them home?