Jump to content

Backup Generator and Transfer Switch


Recommended Posts

Hi All,

So, they are predicting a very cold winter here in the northwest this year. When that happens we always seem to have the inevitable loss of power when the ice takes down limbs onto power lines all around the county.

Usually I grin and bear it, pile on a sweater and snuggle up but this year I was thinking about picking up a back up generator. I was wondering if any of the brethren have one; and, if so, what wattage are you running and for how large a house?

I know size is dependent on what I'm going to be powering off it, but I'm curious as to what folks are using in their own situations.

My wife has a platoon of refrigerators and a freezer that need to be powered in the event of a power outage. My inclination is to simply purchase one or two of those large Rubbermaid tool lockers, put them out back on the shaded side of the house outside, and if the power goes out, unplug all but one and then move all the foodstuff from the others into the lockers; otherwise I'm probably going to need a pretty big generator. Then again, the cost of purchasing two of those is probably equal to the difference in cost between a small barely-large-enough-to-get-by generator and one large enough to keep all of them running and still provide enough capacity to power all of the bare necessities.

I'm also curious about folks' thoughts about installing a transfer box versus just running a few heavy-duty extension cords; and for those who'd eschew extension cords from the generator, their thoughts on building a small sub-panel to use as a transfer box, using off-the-shelf parts, versus purchasing a ready-made transfer switch.

I've opened up a lot of small accessory sub-panels put together and installed by electricians around here when those electricians had installed standby generators. The off-the-shelf installs seem to outnumber the ready-made transfer switch installs. They seem pretty basic: I mean, if I can understand how their circuitry functions they have to be pretty basic because when it comes to most electrical stuff I'm dumb as a turnip.

So, what're you guys using?

ONE TEAM - ONE FIGHT!!!

Mike

Link to post
Share on other sites

I have a 6KW portable that I feed through a manual transfer switch and dedicated circuit in my barn panel. A manual transfer switch is me turning off the main and turning on the generator breaker, then starting the generator. The 6KW keeps up with a freezer, refrigerator, 7 circulator pumps, a pond pump, two water distribution pumps, sump pump, general lighting, TV and parsimonious use of the microwave. Obviously not all loads happen at the same time but the only thing I have to use care with is the microwave. Total installed cost was around $700.

Link to post
Share on other sites

Mike,

During the aftermath of Storm Sandy I ran my house with a 4000 Watt generator. I ran an extension cord to my refrigerator, one to my living room, one to my sump pump and one to my furnace. I used the living room extension cord to keep some lights and entertainment on. The digital electronics were run through a surge protector.

I also used a padlock and chain to keep my generator from being stolen by people that were driving around and grabbing from the outside of houses when they were left unattended.

I hot wired my furnace through the shut-off switch using a cannibalized computer power cord.

I had no problems running everything including lights (with energy efficient bulbs), a big screen TV, cable box, DVR and various vdeo games. I also charged computers and phones for my neighbors.

I did not buy a larger generator because of the amount of gas required to keep it going. I ran my house on less than 4 gallons a day. I shut off the generator at night (11 PM) and started it back up early in the morning (7 AM). If I had a larger generator I would have to keep a lot more gas on hand. I have two 5 gallon cans in my garage. Of course I could siphon from the cars and truck in the driveway if needed but I went out to buy gas two times during the weekthat we were without power and all worked out.

Some of my neighbors have since installed transfer switches, and/or natural gas generators. I thank them because now that they spent all of their money on the emergency power, we will not need it. The same rule applies when I bought my snowblower and there were no major snow storms for a few years afterwards.

Good Luck.

Steve

PS- Don't forget to start-up your generator and test it every few weeks.

Link to post
Share on other sites

Which fuel powers your heating system Mike?

A refrigerator/freezer uses very little power. Not much more than a couple or three incandescent light bulbs. I'll bet a 1,000 watt plant will power all of your refrigerator/freezers easily, simultaneously. I don't know if they make generators that small.

Marc

Link to post
Share on other sites

I have installed a manual transfer switch in most of the houses we have owned (work moves us around a little) and have a 6500 watt (7500 peak) generator.

In the Virginia house we are moving out of next week it powers 2 refrigerators, 1 freezer, water heater (power vent natural gas), furnace (gas furnace) fans, assorted lighting and the microwave. For summer outages I was going to pick up a single room air conditioner but never got around to it.

As our move to Columbia will hopefully be our last I'm thinking or a whole house generator and automatic transfer switch there.

This is the switch we have in this house

This is the switch we had in the last house.

Both easy to install and after reading TIJ for a while my skill level has come up a little.

Link to post
Share on other sites

I have installed a manual transfer switch in most of the houses we have owned (work moves us around a little) and have a 6500 watt (7500 peak) generator.

In the Virginia house we are moving out of next week it powers 2 refrigerators, 1 freezer, water heater (power vent natural gas), furnace (gas furnace) fans, assorted lighting and the microwave. For summer outages I was going to pick up a single room air conditioner but never got around to it.

As our move to Columbia will hopefully be our last I'm thinking or a whole house generator and automatic transfer switch there.

This is the switch we have in this house

This is the switch we had in the last house.

Both easy to install and after reading TIJ for a while my skill level has come up a little.

That's a strong generator you have. You could get an 18,000 btu window unit and it would probably work just fine even with everything you've listed. My own generator is a 4 KW diesel and it once powered that size window unit for three days/night non-stop along with a water well and all general purpose receptacles, lights, TVs, etc. Took 4 gallons of fuel each morning and evening. It was summer so the compressor in the window unit never shut off.

Good choice of transfer switches too.

Marc

Link to post
Share on other sites

I have a Midwest 200amp transfer switch and a 15KW generator. Runs the whole house including heat pump and pool equipment. Obviously I don't intend to actually run the entire house but its nice to know I could. I got a "divorce sale" from a lady on the generator that I couldn't pass up. Forecasted busy hurricane season this year and we had none so (thankfully) didn't get to use it. I exercise the generator once every two weeks just to stay ready.

Link to post
Share on other sites

Hi,

Thanks for the suggestions so far folks.

I live in a 3-story townhome - all electric. Baseboard heaters in each of the three bedrooms and a couple of unitary in-wall electric heaters in the kitchen/living room/dining room area along with an electric hologram fireplace. All three baths use overhead heat lamps. I've got the typical electric range/oven, 50-gal. electric water heater and electric dryer. There's one full-size frig in the kitchen and two full-size frig' plus a full-size freezer in the garage. I've got half the garage converted into an auto restoration shop with a couple of compressors, blasting cabinets and assorted automotive machine tools but I wouldn't use any of that in a power outage.

The house is tight and well insulated. So much that when the heat goes out in the middle of the winter it takes at least a day for it to cool to the point of being really uncomfortable at which point we break out the sweaters. Once it gets cold in here though it takes a day or two of running the heat full bore to get the place warmed up enough that it returns to it's original mode. We never run the baseboard heaters - ever. The bedrooms on the mid and upper levels are comfortable without them and the one in my office on ground level is right up against the back of my desk so I use a 120V/1500W space heater in the office. During the coldest days of the year, the two 240V/1000W heaters on the main level come on maybe once or twice an hour when the temp in the house drops below 55 degrees. They are all we need for the main floor and the heat from those goes right up the stairwell to the master suite and keeps it plenty warm. The 120V/1500W fireplace is almost never turned on.

I was reading online where refrigerators and freezers generally draw about 700 watts when up and running but about 1200 watts each at startup. If it's really cold out, I wouldn't think I'd have to worry too much about the frig's defrosting but if it's a typical Seattle winter where the coldest it gets is about 35-degrees I'd expect there to be some melting going on in both frig's and the freezer and for sure in the one upstairs. The water heater says 4,000 watts for each element but in an emergency I'd probably shut off the water heater unless it was needed. When needed. I'd shut down those two 240V heaters on the main level for an hour, switch on the water heater, allow the water to heat up, and then I'd shut it down and turn the heaters back on. Same if she needed to dry a load of laundry or use the oven - never more than one of those big watt users on at a time.

Harbor Freight has placed a sale price of $289.99(with coupon) on a 3200 running watts/4000 max watts 6.5 HP generator right now. At 70 dB it's pretty quiet and it'll run 10 hours at half load. I was thinking about picking one up but I'm not sure if it can do the job. The next step up is a 6500 peak/5500 running watts 13 HP unit with a run time of 11 hours at half load and 74dB sound level. That's on sale for $490. - I'm thinking that this one will probably be able to do the job better. I was considering their new inverter generator (2500max/2200 rated) at $499.99($500 jeesh); but, if I did the math right I don't think it has the cajones to do the job - though the noise level is supposedly super low and I hear that the inverter generators are supposedly superior, blah, blah, blah.

I know I can pick up a ready-made transfer switch but I was really wondering if anyone had thrown their own together using off-the-shelf parts - a small breaker box, some breakers, etc.. It seems like it would be a cool project. I know all about the perils to workers of running a system with the main on - I'd go down to the meter, turn off the main and put a padlock on it so only I could turn it back on and then go fire up the generator.

Also thought about going with a propane unit. I used to work on propane-fueled towmotors and forklifts back in '73 when I worked for a big foundry in Torrington, CT for a few months. Got pretty good at fixing those fuel systems and liked their simplicity. There are some real advantages to propane - namely the ability to store unused fuel forever and not having to worry about the generator's fuel system getting all gummed up. They are quite a bit quieter too and they burn cleaner - not completely CO free but I'm pretty certain that they'd be more neighbor friendly than any of the other choices except the inverter type.

What say you all?

ONE TEAM - ONE FIGHT!!!

Mike

Link to post
Share on other sites

Seems like the 4 KW strip heater is the biggest load you want to power so that rules out the 3200 watt plant.

I'd go with the 5500. I've never seen a portable plant that runs on propane but if you'd consider a stationary unit it, propane seems the way to go. Gonna cost you though cause stationarys are bigger than portables.

A dump truck ran into a utility pole yesterday that was feeding my entire subdivision. Took me about five minutes to set up my plant and get some power back on. Ran a couple hours. I don't condone it but I use a 30 amp two-pole breaker to backfeed my panel. I switch the main breaker off first, crank up the plant, hook it up, turn off all 240 V breakers except my water well then flip on the 30 from the plant.

I've had that diesel plant almost 10 years now, run it for an hour or so once a month. Loud enough for me to hear it from 10' away with my implant off. My neighbor says he can't hear anything else. That's LOUD.

Marc

Link to post
Share on other sites

I've never seen a portable plant that runs on propane but if you'd consider a stationary unit it, propane seems the way to go. Gonna cost you though cause stationarys are bigger than portables.

Marc

Generac makes a couple of portable models.

http://www.northerntool.com/shop/tools/ ... _200481615

http://www.northerntool.com/shop/tools/ ... _200596740

OT - OF!!!

M.

Link to post
Share on other sites

My previous neighbor had a propane-powered genset and one of those Fatboy propane tanks. I'll bet it would run for a month on that. He figured it would keep the place toasty while he was away on vacation, automatic start.

When I see the home-brew generator hookups, I call them out as defects. Not because of the previous owners, but because of new people moving in, not understanding, and possibly shocking a linesman working down the street.

Install a real transfer switch that cuts the main and accepts power from the gen simultaneously. Or stick with heavy extension cords through the cat door. Or Mike, in your case, through the Peanut door. [:)]

Yes, you could make a simple transfer switch in a subpanel by hooking two opposing double breakers together by their handles.

Or you could buy one of these Onans with automatic start and computerized transfer switching. This one is powered by natural gas, so it could run for years. It starts itself once a month, powers the house for a little while, then goes back to sleep. The house has hydronic heat supplied by a Viessmann electric boiler.

Click to Enlarge
tn_201310231438_Onangen.jpg

48.23 KB

I just looked it up, 9 kw for $3800, not counting the transfer goodies. But it's just as quiet as you little portable, 10dB.

On propane it puts out 11 kw, interesting.

Link to post
Share on other sites

Mike,

If you use extension cords, you'll get some pretty heady voltage drop, which will waste precious power. (Unless you get some really heavy, bulky, and expensive cords, which you'll then have to store when you're not using them.) You're much better off using the home's existing power distribution system.

Buy a pre-made transfer switch. Save the "cool project" hours for your catfish car rehab.

If you get a gas generator, don't put in gas that's been watered down with ethanol. Get good gas here, it'll last well over a year with no problems and it won't screw up your generator:

http://pure-gas.org/index.jsp?stateprov=WA

And once you get the good gas, you'll need a good way to store it, not the plastic CARB crap cans. Go here:

http://www.jerrycan.com/20-liter-red-st ... an-4-pack/

Link to post
Share on other sites

Cool tip on the gas, Jim. That place is about 600 meters from here. Not sure, but I thought I saw a bunch of those metal Jerry Cans at HFT the other day. I might be able to get them a little cheaper there; worth checking out. I'd be putting StaBil in any gas I store. Running the generator dry with the choke on when you're going to put it up is SOP where I come from.

Whatchu mean catfish, Jimbo!? Have you been unconscious? Have you driven down the road and seen the snout on all of these new cars? The front end of my baby is gorgeous in comparison.

Here's what she looked like when I found her on the H.A.M.B. board more than two years ago. No 151 of 588 made and one of less than 200 left today.

Click to Enlarge
tn_2013102335815_CalifHawkForSale.jpg

56.67 KB

ONE TEAM - ONE FIGHT!!!

Mike

Link to post
Share on other sites

Cool tip on the gas, Jim. That place is about 600 meters from here. Not sure, but I thought I saw a bunch of those metal Jerry Cans at HFT the other day. I might be able to get them a little cheaper there; worth checking out.

Don't do it. The ones a Harbor are cheap crap made in China. I've looked everywhere and $45 is the absolute best price I could find in a real NATO spec can.

I'd be putting StaBil in any gas I store. Running the generator dry with the choke on when you're going to put it up is SOP where I come from.

It's a good practice for sure. I've had unsatisfactory experiences with Stabil. When I discovered that I could buy pure gas, everything that I run with it suddenly performed about 100% better.

Whatchu mean catfish, Jimbo!? Have you been unconscious? Have you driven down the road and seen the snout on all of these new cars? The front end of my baby is gorgeous in comparison.

Here's what she looked like when I found her on the H.A.M.B. board more than two years ago. No 151 of 588 made and one of less than 200 left today.

Click to Enlarge
tn_2013102335815_CalifHawkForSale.jpg

56.67 KB

This picture reminded me of your car:

Click to Enlarge
2013102341622_Packard%20Hawk%20Fish.bmp

688.44 KB

Link to post
Share on other sites

Oooh, that's cold. One thing is for sure, finding a place less than half a mile away where I can get old style gas for that Packard is pretty cool. I guess I'm still going to have to add a lead substitute though.

ONE TEAM - ONE FIGHT!!!

Mike

Link to post
Share on other sites

This is by far the cleanest transfer switch arrangement I have run across, despite is defects. All of the backed up circuits are in a dedicated panel. Cheap too.

Click to Enlarge
tn_2013102391920_201232417715_XFER_SWITCH.jpg

104.71 KB

I write up almost every transfer switch I see. When it takes six hands to replace a dead front there's way to many wires in there.

To really look like a catfish the Packard is gonna need some whiskers...

Click to Enlarge
tn_2013102392945_whiskers.jpg

10.11 KB

Link to post
Share on other sites

Oooh, that's cold. One thing is for sure, finding a place less than half a mile away where I can get old style gas for that Packard is pretty cool. I guess I'm still going to have to add a lead substitute though.

ONE TEAM - ONE FIGHT!!!

Mike

When you do the heads install stellite exhaust seats. No lead necessary. lead substitute is like Spanish Fly; a spurious concoction that makes you feel better about a bad situation.

Link to post
Share on other sites

Thanks Chad,

I'd briefly looked into that. Just the seats or valves too? Been reading that stellite seats and stainless steel valves are the way to go but another guy said he'd installed stellite seats and valves. To be honest, forty years ago when I walked away from the automotive world I'd never looked back and hadn't followed any of the technology. I'd completely missed the whole loss-of-lead discussion.

OT - OF!!!

M.

Link to post
Share on other sites

For years I did the portable generator routine which of course was useless if I wasn't home. We have a high water table here and when the sump pump fires up it discharges 5-6,000 per hour which pretty much rules out a back up pump. Three years ago I went with a fully automated Kohler 18KW system. Sizing is based upon what you want to power. What I didn't expect was having to install a larger natural gas meter - generators use LOTS of natural gas.

The electric companies are pretty serious about how people use generators - if they find you with an improper system that could send power out into the grid where some lineman is working you could find yourself still having to use the generator after the utility has restored power - to everyone but you.

Link to post
Share on other sites

For years I did the portable generator routine which of course was useless if I wasn't home. We have a high water table here and when the sump pump fires up it discharges 5-6,000 per hour which pretty much rules out a back up pump. Three years ago I went with a fully automated Kohler 18KW system. Sizing is based upon what you want to power. What I didn't expect was having to install a larger natural gas meter - generators use LOTS of natural gas.

The electric companies are pretty serious about how people use generators - if they find you with an improper system that could send power out into the grid where some lineman is working you could find yourself still having to use the generator after the utility has restored power - to everyone but you.

I have a battery back-up pump in my sump pit. The water table around here is high and my sump pump runs regularly most of the year. I figure the battery back-up pump gives me the time to come home and set-up the generator if there is an extended power outage.

I also like that even if the power is on, the back-up pump will help if my primary pump fails. I keep an extra sump pump in my basement because 7-11 does not sell sump pumps if my pump craps out in the middle of the night.

Link to post
Share on other sites
  • 1 year later...

I think in this day and age and region, it's foolish to not have a xxxxxxxxxxxxxx backup generator installed in all homes and offices. We too have extra fridges that need to remain powered on no matter what, and I recently moved my business into my home office, so now there's no excuse for us to not get one. We're looking at companies in the NW region who can do xxxxxxxxxxxxbackup generator installations for both home and commercial types. We're thinking of going with xxxxxxxxxxxx, which came highly recommended.

edit by Les. I really want to do business with a company that does not pay advertising!

Link to post
Share on other sites

Which fuel powers your heating system Mike?

A refrigerator/freezer uses very little power. Not much more than a couple or three incandescent light bulbs. I'll bet a 1,000 kw plant will power all of your refrigerator/freezers easily, simultaneously. I don't know if they make generators that small.

Marc

1000 kw is no small unit. Better have a trailer.

Link to post
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.

Guest
Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.

×
×
  • Create New...