So, like many of you (and much of TX), we lost power during Icepocalypse '21. Thanks to everyone who offered help or just good information!
Thus, I’m now a prepper (thanks ERCOT!). I’m looking at generators, and could use some advice. Not looking to go crazy, but want to be better prepared.
First, fuel. We have natural gas, so I’m looking at tri-fuel options. My understanding is that many dual fuel options (LP and gas) are easily converted to accept NG, especially if the regulator is external to the motor. Would love some thoughts on this as I haven’t done any work on fuel systems.
Second, power. I need to run our heater, refrigerator, and communications (T-Mobile failed us hard, but fiber was functional when we had power). I’ll also be looking to get a small AC unit for summer failures. Nothing to replace the whole house AC, just keep inside reasonable. My calculations on this say a gen with running watts around 3500 would work well (the fridge starting watts being the question mark).
Lastly, brands. I’m looking for budget here by necessity, trying to stay below $600 for the generator including a conversion kit if I’m converting gas to tri-fuel. So, I’m looking at Predator, Sportsman, and Champion. Any reservations on these? Any other budget brands I should look at? My frontrunners are one of these Sportsman gens.
Future plans: transfer switch, generator housing, run new gas line, tin-foil-hat…
The output while running on natural gas will be a lot lower than gasoline (around 75% or less). For example that 3500 watts on gasoline is more like 2500 watts on natural gas. You might need a bigger generator than what you’re looking at currently.
I’m in a similar boat - need to support WFH-critical loads during an outage (comms, lights, fans, furnace, portable AC, kitchen loads). However I’ve got some additional constraints that I feel limit my choices to enclosed-housing inverter generators:
Noise : I need this thing to be as quiet as possible
Neighborly concerns : The best site for the generator is in my 10’ wide side yard adjacent to the neighbor’s 10’ wide side yard - can’t be annoying my neighbor if I’m running it
Opsec : Really don’t want the sound of a generator to attract attention during an outage
Fuel : Really only interested in a dual-fuel unit since the cost of running a gas line all the way around the house from the meter to the location of the unit is likely to double the cost of the project. I’ll likely stash some gas in addition to propane since it could run the unit in a pinch or handy to be able to drive an automobile a few tens of miles in the event gas stations are out of commission
Alternative uses : An inverter generator produces very clean power and is also quiet enough that it’s useful for other mobile purposes - such as an RV or camping
As such there are two units under primary consideration:
Of note - the Westinghouse, Predator, and Wen appear to be the same basic design; Briggs & Stratton, Cummins-Onan, Powerhorse (Northern Tool), and Polaris all look to badge-engineer their own flavours. This also looks to be the case with a number of the ~2kW “suitcase” designs as well.
There’s a thriving cottage market in generator mods and reasonably-elegant bolt-on propane conversions are one of the most commonly-available, thus for $100-$200 I could make almost any gas-only generator run on propane, however the performance hit is apt to be greater than the those with OEM dual-fuel capability.
Honda has a guide for estimating loads. Anything with an electric motor - or other inductive load - will draw appreciably more at startup than in operation. I’ve found generatorbible to be a handy resource for comparing OEM specs; I have however not yet found a good source of reliability / real-world performance reports. Consumer Reports(membership required) is a tad lacking in this regard, with an extremely limited selection and a curious fixation on CO sensors that shutdown the generator which is supposed to be far enough away from the structure that CO will not enter it in significant quantities. I also did some comparisons between the small- to mid-sized enclosed inverter generators a while back here.
Doing some load calculations that were a bit confounded by the hairbrained panel layout in my house, I determined that my critical WFH loads are 3071 W starting / 2242 W running; the loads that I would more typically have up during the day are 4085W starting / 2022 running:
I ranked individual loads on each circuit 1-6 in terms of priority:
Critical (comms, furnace, fridge)
WFH (office loads)
Habitability (fans/lighting/livability in other rooms)
Medium Priority (small intermittent-load appliances I might use in an outage)
Low Prioity (small intermittent-load appliances I will likely not use in an outage)
Zero Priority (major appliances that will not be powered)
This was quite the exercise since my important loads didn’t line up neatly with the circuit layout. These estimates are somewhat misleading in the sense that I’ve put my thumb down on the scale for some loads, the startup sum assumes I switch on all circuits at once, and there’s at least pair of mutually-exclusive loads (furnace and portable AC); thus I can probably live with the Firman unit.
An option that I really haven’t considered is two smaller generators running in parallel, which could easily get hit the required wattage at the expense of fewer features, double the number of small engines to maintain, and the need for two devices to be running to manage larger loads.
The general setup I was planning on would be an interlock switch on the panel fed by a generator inlet with the generator situated in a purpose-built doghouse. SOP in the event of an outage would be to start the generator, flip off all branch circuits at the panel, throw the main breaker, move the interlock, switch on the inlet breaker, switch on critical loads sequentially so as to minimize startup load. Upon restoral of commercial power, the process is simpler - throw inlet breaker, move interlock, switch on the main breaker, switch on all remaining open breakers, shut down generator. The upside of an interlock is that unlike transfer switches it’s a one-and-done affair and can accept either 120V or 240V split-phase; downside is more work for the user in case of an outage.
Not addressing the OP overall question, but parenthetically:
I have three 1500 VA UPS units from Cyberpower I got on sale from Adorama for ~$100 a little while back. One is hooked up to my computer, one to my TV & router (they are right to each other), and one to my FiOS ONT (the box on the wall in my garage). So, happily, when my power went out for the few/short times it did, I was still able to connect/Internet/watch/play/etc. :–)
They appear to be able to support this pretty light load each for 2-3 hours (I am guesstimating). This would not be a solution for a long-term power outage like so many had to deal with.
2nd Luke keep any eye on wattage by moving to natural gas your probably loose 30-40% of the rated power.
I ran everything your asking for on a Honda 3500 and I am pretty certain you could even run everything on a 2,200 watt if using gasoline.
on Brands I am a huge fan of the Hondas they are not the cheapest but they have by far the largest consumer base and reliable supply chain. You can easily find whatever part you need same day in most major city’s.
This was a considerable factor in my decision. Noise was first on my list. Reliability, including the parts chain, was second on my list. I tried it out for the first time this evening. I’m pretty happy with it. I used a 15 amp circular saw for the test load and the Honda EU2200i handled it great.
I second this model, we used one to run the furnace, cpap, refrigerator, single hotplate, etc. We had to switch things from plug to plug but it was dirt simple! Ran awesome and longer than expected. I did feed it ethanol free gas. It kept us nice and warm during the 2021 cold snap.
One last point about where I was going in my thinking - I hope to achieve my goals for <$3000 all told. The labor to install an interlock switch is unknown as are the materials for the infrastructure: doghouse, buried conduit, propane fittings, spinny rims.
Been a prepper for a decade. Have a Sportsman 3500/4000W 120V generator, 50 gal gas, 50 gal water, 6 months of food, bullets, band aides, and butter. The NG heater has a jump cord with a switch, the generator has a caged patio, and there are window AC units (120V). We ran the heater, WiFi (Spectrum powers their network), lights, and TV. Yes, the neighbors took notice, I hope they took a hint.
The neighborhood had about 50% duty cycle power (45-90 min ON/OFF). If it had been a lights out, I expect about 3 days before social norms begin to collapse.
Now you’re just gunning for a ticket
Labor is all on me, and I’m hoping to get creative with materials. Starting setup will be extension cords
@mblatz, I’ve toyed with putting a UPS in, but haven’t since I didn’t have a solid plan in place yet. That said, it just makes sense and will be added to the list.
@Robert_Davidson, I’d love to get a Honda, but the WHF (Wife Happiness Factor) is directly related to price on this one. I figure if we ever need it again (betting on it), I might get the go ahead to drop more cash on a Honda.
@Russell_Crow Could you show me a picture of your heater power setup? Mine’s wired directly in, but there’s a switch that I think would make this an easy conversion. I have some experience with building forced air ventilated hush boxes, so that’ll happen at some point.