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
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
Finally, unless you're
powering some pretty large-load items—such
as a window air conditioner or well pump—5,000
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
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
For size comparison, here
are the EU1000i,
EU2000i, and EU3000is generators
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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!
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 monoxide—a 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
- The best prices I've found on the web for Honda generators!
Safety Gas Storage
view of the Honda EU3000is generator
view of the Honda EU2000i generator