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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
Has anybody used a backup generator when there power goes out? I'm planning on my last investment of all to be a little generator.

I have never used any generator, nor do I know of their safety. I think they take gasoline, but I don't know how it it burned. Are these generators indoor or outdoor? Can I wire them from outside my house into my room?
 

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I've used a couple, some huge diesels and some smaller gasoline ones probably bigger than most consumer ones. Most run off gasoline or diesel, but the Coleman variety is almost certain to be gasoline. They have a small engine so they will put out exhaust fumes. For that reason, you want to run it outside. You can wire it inside and some larger generators have a kit for having an electrician wire it into your house. Doing this is a big job unless you are a trained electrician. For your purposes, you probably are looking at a long extension cord so you want to be extra careful about the quality of the cord, that it has a drip loop for condensation to run off of instead of into the plug, etc.

Things to consider when buying are endurance on one tank of gas (since it is generally a hugely bad idea to gas them while they are running) and how much power they put out both at regular and sudden surge requests. Also, bear in mind that some generators can be damaged if they aren't run under a load. Next, look at what happens when the generator runs out of gas in case this happens to you. Another thing to consider is the availability of repair parts. Spending an extra $50.00 bucks may get you a generator that is easier to service. Call around and ask a couple generator repair folks (not dealers if you can help it) what they recommend for longevity and that can be cheaply and easily fixed. Also, it is probably a good idea to do periodic maintenance on it. The manual will probably tell you do that, but it is probably a good idea to crank it every once in a while. If you decide to aquire a generator test it a couple of times in a controlled environment. Finally, if you are going to hook up electronics to it like a computer, you want to make sure that it has the protection necessary to keep from frying your equipment.

Remember to calculate the total load and look at the generator output, overlooking this could easily result in an underpowered generator. Remember that some things like refrigerators and printers draw huge amounts of power when they spool up so look in the manual to get your amps/watts.

Best,

Marcos
 

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Down here during the hurricanes, the number of people running generators close to there house and getting carbon monoxide poisoning was crazy! Be carefull where you put your generator, even if its outside, be sure its n ot by your any ac intakes, or any type of ventilation.

Ryan
 

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Consumer Reports rans reviews of some generators a few months ago. Go to their website http://www.consumerreports.org and search for generators and then look up the issue at your local public library.

There are some generators that can also run on natural gas and also propane. If you hav natural gas delivered to your house or use propane, then this can be another option. If you want to have it wired so that the generator kicks in when a power outage occurs and then runs current to a select circuits, that will of course require a qualified electrician, but it can be done so that you have seamless supply of energy.

Some good places to look for this type of intertie system are renewable energy installers/suppliers. RealGoods is a large outfit in Ukiah California. You can call and get live consults for what would work for you.
 

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Discussion Starter · #5 ·
Hey, thanks a ton boys!

Ryan, about "how far from the house" would you recommend? And, if it snows or rains, will I need to protect the generator?

I won't be running computers or anything like that. Just a few submersible heaters about a 100 watts each, probably about 3 or four...just to get my little family :lol: through. Perhaps then I can get a saltwater tank started and start breeding P. fridmani, the orchid dottyback.
 

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I used a generator during the florida hurricanes to run the air conditioner in my frog room, and it worked well, but they are loud and everybody will know you have one :lol: Follow Ryans advice and make sure it if away from any ac intakes, and other openings which will allow carbon monoxide into your house. As for wiring it into your house, it is not worthit to run a few heaters, as it is a very expensive job which requires a electrician. To get power to your heaters use a heavy duty extension cord rated for the correct wattage.[/b]
 

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Generators are basically engines in a framework that makes them easier to drag around. Pretty much the same type as in a car or outboard motor, except smaller. Most use gasoline, but as mentioned earlier, there are others. The gasoline ones come in two types, four stroke and two stroke. The term refers to how many stages the pistons go through.

A four stroke engine works exactly like a car engine. The lubrication system (oil) is separate from the gasoline. Rings mounted on the pistons keep the oil out of the piston chamber, the oil collects in an oil pan underneath the engine, where it is recycled with an oil pump back up into the moving parts. The first movement (stroke) is away from the point where air and fuel enters the piston chamber through a set of valves. After the fuel and air are allowed in, the valves close and the piston moves up to compress the fuel/air mixture. Then a sparkplug ignites the mixture and a controlled explosion occurs inside the chamber, driving the piston down (the power stroke). The piston moves back up again, evacuating the spent fuel from a second set of valves, and the process starts all over again. Engines almost always have at least 2 pistons, because they are linked by a crankshaft that is adjusted so that the power stroke from one piston will carry the compression stroke for another.

Two stroke engines are different, because they don't have a separate oil system, and they have no real valves. Oil is mixed directly into the gasoline in a specific ratio. The piston draws down and allows air and fuel to flow in through holes that lead to the carburator drilled into the side of the chamber that are exposed when the piston is in the down position. The air/fuel is kept from flowing out again by a reed valve (not the same as in a four stroke). As the piston is pushed up again, the sparkplug ignites the fuel and pushes it down again, and the gasses flow out of the piston chamber through the exit holes. The crankshaft carries the piston up again, and the process repeats itself.

Two strokes are cheaper and provide more power for less fuel (because the pistons don't have to be driven up twice per cycle), but dirtier due to the incomplete combustion because of the oil mixed in with the gasoline. They pollute more, and they are in the process of being phased out. Four strokes are cleaner, but cost more and put out less power than two strokes. The noise is about equal in both. Suffice to say that they have no muffler, so they're about as loud as a push driven lawn mower. That is to say, they're loud. Your whole neighborhood will know if you're running one.

And yes, you will need to protect the generator from moisture. Electricity, water, and gasoline make for a very bad combination. Most people I know put them out on their back patios or in the garage with the doors left open. This may seem common sense, but I've seen people do this: Don't put them on a wood surface. If you spill the gasoline, it will soak right into the wood and make an extreme fire hazard.
 

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yuri said:
There are some generators that can also run on natural gas and also propane. If you hav natural gas delivered to your house or use propane, then this can be another option.
One of the options I have looked at is a biodiesel conversion for a diesel generator: more NOx, but less or everything else, and it is a non-toxic fuel source you can get from your local Chinese restaurant.

I'd like to get an old army generator from a surplus store or DRMO. Those things take a beating, have a great manual, can be fixed by your average person, and are weatherized. I used to work with some of those, and I had enough power to light up a small city :)

Marcos
 

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Discussion Starter · #9 ·
I have seen DIY articles how to build a generator from a lawnmower. But I'm sure during an outage, EVERYBODY would like to have something that made a ton of noise outside, if it keeps their power on!
 
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This might be a little out dated, but i haven't been around much =)

I live in an area that has very very bad power lines and our power goes out at least once a week for anywhere from 3-8 hours at a time. Needless to say we live out in the stix and everyone has a generator. Not only do you need it to keep your furnaces running in the winter, but i also have a very large freezer filled with food that needs to stay running, a refrigirator that needs to be opened, frog tanks, lights, etc.

two things i will put out to you that i feel you need to know.

1. DO NOT WIRE A GENERATOR TO YOUR HOUSE!
i dont think you can find an electrician that will do this for you anymore, but if you can, he probably isn't very ethical. Here is why. Running a generator attached to the main line of you house will run "dirty" power back up the line and could potentially zap the technicians trying to repair the outage. Also when the power comes back on, it will back feed to your generator and could potentially cause an explosion or at least destroy your generator and blow every fuse in your house. The only safe way to hard wire a generator is to have a completely separate set of wires installed and separate outlets to plug things into, but even then, it is not recomended. a third and less lethal reason is that in order to run everything in your house on a portable generator is very unlikely, the smaller commercial models are not designed for that kind of load. My generator is a 3hp model that has a 1 gallon tank and that is pretty large for a commercial model. It runs 2 freezers, a refrigarator, my furnace, a heater in the frog room and a few lamps around the house.

2. One of my neighbors has a diesel generator that he converted to biofuel (aka vegetable oil) and it is fantastic. It runs quieter, longer, and smells like McDonalds! He says that it is a very simple thing to do, you just have to add a second tank and a switch. They have to start and shut down on diesel to clear the lines of the coagulating oil, but the fuel efficiency is AMAZING. he can run his generator on 1 gallon of clean vegetable oil (btw this is not cooking grade oil, you have to purchase a different grade of oil, not more expensive just hard to find) for about 6-8 hours with a heavier load than my generator which will run maybe 4 hours if i dont tax it too much. Needless to say, getting a full nights sleep of 6 hours rather than waking up at 3am to refill the generator in subzero weather has perked my interest.
 

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drunknmunky said:
2. One of my neighbors has a diesel generator that he converted to biofuel (aka vegetable oil) and it is fantastic. It runs quieter, longer, and smells like McDonalds! He says that it is a very simple thing to do, you just have to add a second tank and a switch. They have to start and shut down on diesel to clear the lines of the coagulating oil, but the fuel efficiency is AMAZING. he can run his generator on 1 gallon of clean vegetable oil (btw this is not cooking grade oil, you have to purchase a different grade of oil, not more expensive just hard to find) for about 6-8 hours with a heavier load than my generator which will run maybe 4 hours if i dont tax it too much. Needless to say, getting a full nights sleep of 6 hours rather than waking up at 3am to refill the generator in subzero weather has perked my interest.
With diesel conversions you have a couple of choices. The first which you have touched upon is straight vegetable oil (SVO) which requires the purge and warm-up cycles you described and requires a second tank. Some people take waste vegetable oil (WVO) and push it through filters to make it acceptable for use.

The other option is actual biodiesel which is processed oils that have had the natural glycerine processed out. These don't need a conversion kit, but finding biodiesel can be a challenge and making it yourself, while an option, is for the serious DIY person only. Also, you can get biodiesel mixed with regular diesel, usually it is called B20 or something similar with the number representing the % biodiesel. Another thing to remember is that the biofules coagulate more easily than regular diesel at cold temperatures so a diesel start up may be necessary to heat the generator, or a heat blanket, etc.

Next, biofuels can do a job on old hoses. In car conversions, often the old rubber fuel hoses are replaced with synthetic materials. Similarly, you can expect a purge in your system from old "gunk" so if you have a filter check it after you convert and replace it. Many folks use a clear inline prefilter before the main filter (available through auto parts stores) to monitor the contaminants before they gum up the larger, probably more expensive filter.

I'm interested in the increased endurance of the generators you mentioned. At least in the automotive biodiesel world, I think you can expect generally the same fuel efficiency (except maybe some enhancement from the lines now being clean for a change) as in regular diesel. Where most of the performance gains come from is from the diesel technology itself. So, the gains may come from diesel versus gasoline, not diesel versus biodiesel.

Thanks for the information, good to know folks are doing this.

Marcos

BTW. Here's a good place to start with biofuels
http://journeytoforever.org/biodiesel.html
 

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> 1. DO NOT WIRE A GENERATOR TO YOUR HOUSE!

This is possible if done correctly. You can tie in a generator with a transfer switch which continuously monitors the grid power, so that when you have a power outage, it turns on your generator and switches over to this power supply. It still monitors the grid, so that when power is restored to the grid, the generator is powered down and the system switches over to accept energy from the grid again.

So, you can most definitely wire a generator to your household. You just have to find someone who knows what they are doing.

If you want to do this properly, contact a few of the renewable energy retailers (e.g. Real Goods) for referrals or look through some issues of Home Power magazine and see if there is ayone in your area with experience in these installations.

This is nothing new. Some commercial buildings have this type of setup, hospitals do, all with generators more massive and that pump out amazing amounts of energy that some small kW system for a single home.

Biodiesel is a true renewable resource. You are taking oil from a crop that can be planted year after year, whereas fossil fuels take tens of thousands of years to develop. There will be diesels coming to the market that have a catalytic converter on them, further decreasing emissions.
 
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