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The material contained in these pages are the author's opinions, and do not reflect that of any other person or entity.  You are advised to seek expert opinion if you have questions or concerns about your specific emergency preparedness situation.

Generator Overview
When faced with the potential of a hurricane blowing into their neighborhood, many folks will usually consider buying a generator to get them through the long, hot days when commercial power is unavailable.  And unfortunately, the average person will go to the local hardware our home improvement center and purchase whatever the salesman recommends.  Very often, what they end up with is what I refer to as an "industrial" generator.  

An industrial generator is designed primarily for construction or other commercial use.  They are typically large, heavy, loud, and guzzle gasoline.  Usually, very little thought is given or research conducted before this purchase.  And what the new owner soon finds out is that an industrial generator is not the best choice for the vast majority of folks who need short-term (one or two weeks) emergency power.

First, let's discuss fuel consumption.  A typical 5,000 watt generator under full load will consume about 18 gallons of gasoline in a 24 hour period.  Unfortunately, even under partial load, it will still consume nearly the same amount of gasoline.  That's because this type of generator is designed to run at full power continuously  So to put this into perspective, that's more than  three five-gallon containers of gasoline at a cost of about $67.50 per day to feed this monster.  

Next, there's the issue of noise.  If you have a generator running full throttle in your back yard, at least you get the benefit of a refrigerator, fans, television, lights, and many of the necessities of life that make it a bit more tolerable during a power outage.  But for your neighbors, all they hear is the relentless roar of your generator while they swelter in the heat.  Needless to say, you're not going to be very popular after the sun goes down and those around you try to get to sleep with their windows open!

Finally, unless you're powering some pretty large-load itemssuch as a window air conditioner or well pump5,000 watts is far more power than the average house needs in a short-term emergency.  So what you end up with is a generator that is sitting there, continuously producing a full 5,000 watts of power, even though you may only need about a third of that power in an average emergency situation.

What I recommend instead is an inverter equipped generator.  And I am particularly impressed with the Honda "EU" series of generators.  These generators use an internal computer to control the power output and speed of the engine, based on the load applied to the generator.  For example, if you are powering a TV, fan, a few lights, and a typical household refrigerator, you will only need about 1,000 watts of power.  In this case, the Honda EU2000i would only be required to run at about half speed to meet your electrical needs.  And when the refrigerator compressor cycles off, it would slow down to just above idle speed.  Based on my experience, under this type of load scenario, the Honda EU2000i will only consume about 2.5 gallons of gasoline in a 24 hour period.  And as anyone who has ever been around after a hurricane can attest, the most scarce commodity is gasoline!

Inverter generators are extremely quiet; typically producing less noise than an upright vacuum cleaner.  So when you turn in for the night, you can still run your generator in good conscience, knowing that you won't be keeping the neighbors awake all around you.

In addition to being quiet and thrifty to operate, the EU2000i is also very lightweight in comparison to a full-sized industrial generator.  Weighing in at just under 50 pounds, it can be easily moved from one location to another by the average person.  It even makes a great companion on fishing trips, camping, or powering the basics at a hunting cabin.

One of the objections I often hear regarding the Honda "EU" series of generators is the relative high price compared to the industrial generators.  It's possible to pick up an industrial generator for about $600, whereas the street price on an EU2000i is around $1,000.  However, when you do the math on the cost of fuel (at $3.75 per gallon), you make up the $400 difference in just seven days continuous of usage.  After you pass that break-even point, the Honda pays for itself every time you use it!

For my personal emergency power needs, I have a Honda EU3000is as a primary and an EU2000i as a backup.  I like the EU3000i because it has plenty of reserve capacity to start and run an average window air conditioner all night and into the next day on one tank of gas.  It also features a 30 amp locking plug, which make connection to my transfer switch safer and easier.  Finally, I like the convenience and safety of the electric starter.

Recently, I also acquired an EU1000i.  Though this generator is really a handy little device for very low wattage applications, it's probably too small for anything but minimal emergency power.  But in a worst-case scenario, it will power a fan, television, and a few small devices around the home.

Just for the record, I have no vested financial interest in any of the products I recommend on this web site.  I am, however, a big fan of Honda products.  I drive a Honda Pilot, cut my grass with Honda lawn equipment, and would wear Honda underwear if it were available!


For size comparison, here are the EU1000i, 
EU2000i, and EU3000is generators

A Useful Accessory For Your Generator
I have added a SenDEC tachometer and hour meter to both of my larger generators.  This handy little device displays the elapsed run time of the generator, which is helpful for keeping track of maintenance and oil changes.  When the generator is running, it displays the generator speed in revolutions-per-minute (RPM).  Installation time will typically run between 15 and 45 minutes, depending on where and how you choose to mount the display.

   
SenDEC combination tachometer and hour meter



Frequently Asked Questions

I have received numerous queries about generators in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy.  Let me try to answer some of the most frequently asked questions.

I'll start by saying that the answer to most of your questions can be found in the generator owner's handbook.  This should be your first and definitive source of information.  Also, if you have a question that is not answered in the handbook, you can call the manufacturer and often get someone who can assist.

Q) Can I run my generator continuously?
A) I called a representative at Honda, and he said that for their generators, as long as it is maintained according to the owner's manual and there is adequate airflow around the generator, it can be run for as long as needed.  As far as maintenance goes, changing the oil is probably the most important thing you will need to do.  Oil is the lifeblood of your generator, and running it low on oil--or with dirty oil--will often result in premature failure.  Obviously, you should watch your generator for signs of overheating.  But a high-quality generator such as the Honda EU series should be able to run as long as you need it to.

Q) Can I run my generator overnight? 
A) Running a generator unattended can be a risky proposition.  Here are a few things you need to consider:

1) Is it secure?  A thief can grab a generator and be gone in a very short time.  If you leave your generator unattended--even if you are close by--make sure it is secured to a permanent structure with a strong cable and lock.

2) Can carbon monoxide make its way into the home?  Running a generator in any kind of enclosure is asking for trouble!  Carbon monoxide is a colorless, odorless gas that can kill.  It can also make its way into the home through an open window or any other home opening or sizeable penetration near the generator.

3) Is it in a place where it can start a fire?  A generator placed too close to any flammable structure is liable to start a fire.  Also, I've seen generators "walk" several feet by vibration.  So it may be safe when you start it, but a few hours later, be up against a flammable structure.  So the threat of fire is a very real possibility that you should consider.

4) Is the generator in a place where it can get wet?  Unless specifically rated as being rainproof, rain will damage most generators.  Also a wet generator or extension cord presents a potential for electrical shock or electrocution.  It may not be raining when you go to bed, but it could start in the middle of the night!

So based on these factors, the decision is up to you.  I've done it before myself, but I have a LOT of precautions in place.  This includes a sheltered area that does not obstruct airflow, but will keep the generator dry.  Also, I have wheel locks to keep it from moving while running.  Finally, I run the cords in such a way that they cannot get wet if it rains.

Q) Will my generator power an average home refrigerator?
A) There are many factors in that equation.  The capacity of the generator, the size of the refrigerator, and even the age of the refrigerator all come into play.  But for most average home refrigerators, a 2,000 watt generator should be enough to start and run them.  I ran two refrigerators on one Honda EU2000i a few years ago with no problem, and the generator ran for about 10 hours on a gallon of gas.  It should also be noted the newer refrigerators are more energy efficient, and more likely to run on a smaller generator than some of the older ones.

Q) How much gasoline does a generator consume?
A) This answer will vary greatly, depending on the make and model of the generator, as well as the wattage capacity of the generator and load.  My experience is mostly with the Honda generators, with a Master 5,000 watt unit that I owned back in 1999.  

In my test where I ran an 8,000 BTU air conditioner, my Honda EU2000i ran 5.5 hours on a gallon of gas.  When just running a few lights, TV, and a fan, I got about twelve hours on a gallon of gasoline.  

The Honda EU3000is will burn a bit more gas per hour, but will power significantly larger appliances.  It will run about any average household refrigerator, and a even a 13,500 BTU (120 volt) air conditioner.  

When you move up to an "industrial" generator--say a 5,000 watt model--that runs at full throttle continuously, your gas consumption will go up exponentially.  Even with no load on the generator, it will burn quite a bit of fuel per hour.  Then, as the load increases past a certain point, fuel consumption will continue to go up.  Under full load, expect to burn just under one gallon per hour.  Again, you should refer to your owner's manual for the most accurate information.

Q) What do I need to power a well pump?
A) This will depend on the size of the motor on the pump.  It should also be noted that some well pumps require 220 Volts AC, and may be a bit complicated to hook up for anyone who isn't a trained professional.  An incorrect connection may result in damage to the pump and/or generator, or even a fire or possible electrocution hazard.  If you are lucky enough to have a pump that runs on 120 VAC, then you may be able to get by with a 3,000-5,000 watt generator.  Wiring is less complicated, but should still be done by a competent professional.  

Another significant factor to consider is the startup wattage required by many high-current inductive devices (that is, devices that use an electric motor).  This startup wattage may be as high as three or four times the normal running wattage of the pump.  So if it requires 2,000 watts to run the pump, it may require up to 6,000 or 8,000 watts to start the pump.  

All of these factors make choosing a generator for a well pump a very tricky proposition that is sometimes hit or miss.  I wish I could offer more definitive answers, but unfortunately, in this area, there are no easy answers without having a lot of information specific to each pump.
 

Q) Where is the best place to buy a generator?
A) I buy all of my generators from www.Mayberrys.com; their phone number is (908) 689-3310.  They offer the best prices on the web, and have been really good to work with.  And by the way, I receive NO compensation or free products from either Honda or Mayberry's.  I've just had very good luck with both Honda generators and the folks at Mayberry's.

My Magazine Article
Below is a magazine article that I wrote a few years ago, and was published in the May, 2001 edition of Monitoring Times Magazine.  However, most of the information is still relevant today, and should be useful in choosing and operating a generator in an emergency situation.   As I mentioned above, I now own the Honda EU2000i and EU3000is generators.

"Generating Power" - Monitoring Times Magazine, May, 2001
It’s a normal morning around our home as the family prepares for work and school. The house is warm and cozy, my wife is running the hair dryer, the TV is on in the background, and all the lights burn brightly. So what’s so unusual about this situation? Because the rest of the neighbors are sitting in their cold, dark homes due to a power outage!

In the year and a half that I’ve owned a generator, we’ve survived furious Texas storms and close calls from hurricanes, yet not once did we lose electrical service at our home. But it only took one rotten tree branch across a local distribution line to knock out the power on one of the coldest days of the year!

In the United States, electrical service is so reliable that we tend to take it for granted. Rarely do we ever flip the wall switch and the lights fail to come on. But when the power does go out, it can wreak all sorts of havoc. Everything from minor conveniences, such as hair dryers, to life-sustaining necessities, such as the coffee maker, can be rendered inoperative!

So what can a person do to minimize the impact of an electrical disruption? Well, obviously generators are one solution that can provide power to a household or small business when the lights go out. Many are reluctant to consider a generator because of the perception that they are expensive or complicated to own and operate. But as you will see, backup power can be as simple and economical or as complicated and expensive as you make it.

In order to determine the size of generator for your needs, you must first determine the amount of power (measured in watts) that you will require. A "watt" is a basic measure of power derived by multiplying voltage times amperage. To determine the load that will be placed on your generator, you must add up the combined wattage of all devices you intend to run simultaneously. All electrical devices in your home should have either the wattage or amperage stated somewhere on a tag affixed to the device. If the current consumption is stated in amps, it can be converted to watts by multiplying amps by 120 (where 120 is the average voltage for homes in the United States.) For example, an electrical device that draws 1.5 amps, multiply 1.5 amps times 120 volts to determine a load of 180 watts.

Some items are easy to determine, such as a 100-watt light bulb, which obviously, draws 100 watts. However, anything using an electric motor, such as a refrigerator, is a bit more complicated. The power required to start the motor can be as much as three times the current it takes to run the motor. So when calculating the load for motors, or devices which use motors, you must use the "starting" wattage, not the "running" wattage. Special attention should be given these calculations for those who plan to use a generator to run a well pump, since it also may affect your ability to get water into the home.

As you choose a generator, there are a couple of important details regarding specifications. First, make sure that you select a generator based on its "rated" capacity as opposed to its "maximum" capacity. As a rule of thumb, rated capacity is approximately 90% of the maximum capacity. For example, a generator advertised as 1,000 watts may only have a rated capacity for 900 watts, and only be able to sustain the 1,000-watt load for a short period–perhaps a few minutes. Another detail to consider is the fuel usage. Very often, the fuel consumption is based on a 50% load. In actual service where the load is higher, your true run time may be as little as half as the advertised run time.

For the purposes of this article, I will divide the generators into three broad categories:
500 – 2000 watts, 3000 – 6000 watts and 10,000 – 15,000 watts.

Generators in the 500 – 1000 watt category are limited to relatively light-duty tasks, such as powering a few ham radios or scanners, charging batteries, and supplying power for emergency lighting. But keep in mind that they cannot power any significant electrical devices, like a portable electric heater or perhaps even a regular coffee maker! On a positive note, generators in this category are typically more affordable and portable, and are easier to move around the home or transport. This may be a consideration if you wish to take your generator with you when camping, or perhaps to power the rigs on your next ham radio field day outing.

The 3000 – 6000 watt units are capable of handling most of the necessities and many of the luxuries of an average household. This may include the blower to the furnace (but not a central electric heater,) many home appliances, normal household lighting, as well as the full gamut of communications gear. On the other hand, they may weigh over two hundred pounds and require wheels to allow one person to move them about.

Top of the line models in the 10,000 – 15,000 range provide the power to run all electrical devices and appliances, including electric heat and central air systems in a typical home. With a generator of this size, the occupants of the home may go about their business as if the commercial power had never been interrupted. Generators in this class are usually permanently mounted and wired directly into the home’s electrical system.

If you don’t have your generator wired into your home electrical system, then you will need one or more heavy extension cords. Be sure to calculate the total load that will be carried by the cord, then choose one which will safely handle the load. It’s also a good idea to get a cord rated for about 30% more than required to give you some margin of safety.

As with your home electrical system, your generator should be properly grounded for safety. The size of the ground rod and wire will vary according to the size of the generator and your unique wiring configuration. You should check with an electrician for further information on grounding requirements for your particular situation.

For those who want the ultimate in safety and convenience, having the generator wired into the home electrical system is perhaps the best option. Though this is not a simple or cheap undertaking, the benefits usually make it well worth the effort and expense.

In my case, it made chose to hook the generator into the home’s electrical system with the EmerGen manual transfer switch from Connecticut Electric. This solution allows me to safely route electricity to six of the most critical circuits in my home. The transfer switch completely isolates the incoming line voltage from the generator, and vice-versa. The two built-in meters allows me to balance the load and monitor the total wattage to ensure that I don’t overload the generator.

If you do choose to connect your generator into your home electrical system, I strongly recommend that you have this done by a licensed electrician. The potential for electrocution, fire or damage to your equipment is just too great to treat this as a do-it-yourself project.

Regardless of whether you use extension cords or hardwire the generator into your home, you should start the generator and allow it to warm up for a few minutes before applying a load. Then, the devices should be added progressively if possible. One of the advantages of the EmerGen switch is that each circuit can be switched on or off individual, allowing you to increase the load on the generator one circuit at a time.

Like all emergency equipment, the generator should be carefully maintained and checked periodically. I start my generator up on a monthly basis, apply an electrical load, and let it run for about fifteen minutes. All maintenance, including oil changes, should be done according to manufacturer’s specifications. And since Murphy’s Law never takes a holiday, you should have extra oil, fuel filters and spark plugs on hand.

One option that you should strongly consider for your generator is an electric starter. Depending on the generator, this can add $200 or more to the cost of the unit. However, a strained back in the middle of a blizzard can render all of your expense and planning useless. Due to the large engine required, this is especially true for generators of 5,000 watts and up. If you choose not to purchase a generator with an electric starter, then you may wish to consider a generator with a Honda engine that employs Automatic Compress Release (ACR). My generator, a Master model MGH5000, is equipped with a large Honda nine-horsepower engine with ACR. Yet it starts on the first pull every time with a short, easy tug of the rope.

Conclusion
Whether you choose to go with the 1,000 watt "minimalist" approach, or a large, fully redundant system, a generator can make life a lot more tolerable in the aftermath of a hurricane, blizzard or other natural disaster. For most of us, this is a fairly sizeable investment, so it would be wise to take time to do your research first. Then when the lights flicker and the house goes dark, well, at least you can make a cup of coffee and listen to your scanner!



Generator Maintenance and Safety Tips
Safe storage of gasoline for your generator should be one of your primary concerns. Since gasoline vapors can escape the storage can and linger until ignited, I strongly suggest that only ULÒ approved safety cans be used. To further reduce the chance of fire or explosion, gasoline should be stored in a separate storage shed as far away from the home as possible. 

Since internal combustion engines emit carbon monoxidea deadly colorless, odorless gas, you should NEVER run your generator in enclosed area where people or animals are present! Also, you should be certain that the exhaust is not being allowed to enter the dwelling through an open window or vent inlet. Carbon monoxide is deadly, and should be treated as a serious threat!

Also, when refueling your generator after running, make sure it has cooled down sufficiently.  Attempting to add fuel to a hot generator can result in a flash fire.  It’s also a good idea to have a fire extinguisher in the proximity of the generator (though not directly over it, since if a fire erupted, you’d be unable to access the extinguisher!)

When storing gasoline, either in separate cans or in the generator’s tank, the fuel can begin to degrade in as little as two months. Bad gas can leave a gummy residue in the carburetor, preventing the generator from starting, and may require overhaul of the fuel system. To prevent this problem, I use an additive called STA-BILÒ in both my generator’s gas tank and my gas storage cans. The manufacturer claims that this product extends the storage life of your fuel for as long as 15 months. I’ve used it continuously in my generator since it was new, and I’ve never had a problem with the fuel going bad. However, just to be on the safe side, I swap out the gas every six months and put the old gas in my car. To keep track of the age of the fuel, I write the date on a label and affix it to the side of the generator and on each gas can.

Finally, in addition to extra fuel for your generator, don't forget a few cans of oil.  After Hurricane Ike, I had several folks tell me that they had purchased plenty of gas, but didn't realize they needed to change the oil periodically.  Some generators require an oil change after the first 10 hours of operation, then every 100 hours thereafter.  Consult your operators manual for your particular generator.


Useful Links

Honda Generators

Mayberry's - The best prices I've found on the web for Honda generators! 

STA-BIL Gasoline Stabilizer

Safety Gas Storage Cans


Reference Photos


Front panel view of the Honda EU3000is generator



Front panel view of the Honda EU2000i generator
 

 

Owner: Haskell L. Moore
All articles are property of the owner, and may not be reproduced in whole or part without
written permission from the author. Copyright © 2008 - 2013.
Email me at: HurricaneHaskell@gmail.com