Very nice Max. In Zimbabwe we get power cuts (for load shedding) for 4-5 hours aa day. When we were back there recently we had one for 14 hours. But 10 days is a loooong time.
We don't have piped gas in Zimbabwe so most people have a petrol (gasoline) or diesel generator. Were I to go back there to live I would get a diesel one with electric start. 20 KW is a lot of power though I guess you would need it with air conditioning. Air conditioners are rare (and not often needed) in Zim. and most people have a small gas (propane) type 2-plate cooker and cylinder for cooking when the power is off. So you can get by with 2-5 KW.
I'd also get solar panels and some batteries and an inverter. If you only want some lights and a TV and fridge you could get by with a 1KW inverter, and you wouldn't have the cost of the diesel or the noise (or the fumes, which get a bit oppressive when everyone has their genny running).
Would it be rude of me to ask how much your generator cost?
@David: We don't have piped gas in Zimbabwe so most people have a petrol (gasoline) or diesel generator.
Everything is a trade-off -- given a choice I would have loved a big tri-fuel generator (just in case), but in reality I don't think I'd ever use anything but the natural gas.
I did some research at the beginning -- the beauty of natural gas is that it tends to keep on coming after all else has failed (excepting a MEGA-disaster like a big earthquake that breaks the lines -- and I'm hoping we don't run into that here in Alabama).
FYI While I was having the generator installed, I also had the house's main electric hot water tank replaced with an 80-gallon Natural Gas version that doesn't need electricity at all.
@David: Air conditioners are rare (and not often needed) in Zim. and most people have a small gas (propane) type 2-plate cooker and cylinder for cooking when the power is off. So you can get by with 2-5 KW.
To be honest I would have been happy with less, but it was one of those "good," "better," "best" type choices. A solution that could run the entire house 100% would have been mind-bogglingly expensive. At the lower end I could have had something that would just have run the fridges and a few lights. I opted for a middle solution -- here in Alabama it can get really hot in the summer (it's about 94F these last few day sand it can easily top 100) -- it can also get %^&* cold in the winder with ice storms and suchlike. My generator is NOT hooked into the HVAC's emergancy heating coils -- just into the general-purpose heat-pump -- so it's enough to stop us boiling or freezing.
It's also nice to have most of the plug sockets powered up (you can plug in small lights and suchlike) -- plus the main family room's lights and TV and cable and Wi-Fi.
If we were just looking at the power going down for an hour here or there I wouldn;t have bothered -- it was loosing it for 10 days that was a "wake-up" call -- I opted for a solution that would keep us going for a while if things really went pear-shaped.
@David: Would it be rude of me to ask how much your generator cost?
I could have got it for about $4,500 if I'd purchased it directly over the Internet, and I believe they would have delivered/placed it where I specified, but if I wanted it moving after that it would have been my responsibility. I opted to let H.C. Blake purchase it because rthen they take full responsibility for installing it and maintaining it and everything, so it cost a bit more but I think it was worth it.
FYI The real cost is in the insrtallation -- adding the extra electric panel and the transfer switch and all that stuff -- it would be a much better idea to have this all installed from the beginning if you were building a new house.
That's a great observation. House electrical systems must by code be designed to supply power to everything in the house running simultaneously. But, how often does that actually happen? The real problem is that you never know when the power will go out and consequently when it does, with a small generator, you have to run around switching stuff on and off or switching extension cords. For example if the power goes out in the winter you want to run a cord to the heating system and in the summer to the AC. I have a system that is permanently installed but is not capable of running the AC and the microwave oven simultaneously. It seems that the extra 10 amps or so for the microwave puts the generator just into overload and trips the breaker. It would be really nice if someone would provide a wireless control center where I could select the high wattage thing(s) I want to run so I don't have to scurry from room to room turning things off so I can turn something else on. If it could do that automatically it would be even better.
@lakehermit: The real problem is that you never know when the power will go out and consequently when it does, with a small generator, you have to run around switching stuff on and off or switching extension cords.
The way it works with us is that we already had two fuse panels (I can't recall if the guys from H.C.Blake said each was 100A or 200A).
They installed a third panel that supports 12 circuits -- it was up to me to choose what each of those circuits did. In the case of the HVAC system, this required two of the circuits. I'm not sure of the stovetop also required two circuits or not.
The thing is that you could have every single thing in the house up and running. When the power cuts out -- the generator fires up -- then the automatic switch crosses over from the everyday panels (where were powering everything) to the new generator panel (which is only powering the specified subset of circuits -- which have been selected such that even if all of them are active thsi is inside the generator's capabilities to handle) ... so no need to run around turning anything off.
After the big blizzard about 20 years ago we were without power for more than a week. No power, no phone, no cell coverage...nothing.
After several days the snow cleared enough that I could drive to a friend's house where there was a working phone. I was looking for a portable generator, but as you might expect they were in very short supply after a weather anomaly like the blizzard. I finally found a 5KW manual-start generator that someone had returned to one of the big box hardware stores and was fortunate enough to nab it. I set it up in the back yard and as I was uncoiling the cable towards the breaker panel the power came back on.
Well, it served us well for a number of years but it had the shortcomings that it was too small to run very much of the house, and being manual start, it was difficult for my wife to get it going by herself. We looked at whole-house natural gas generators but couldn't afford one.
Last year I did some consulting work for a local generator company and while I was there I straightened out some problems with their phone system. I didn't bill them for it because it was a trivial thing for me. Apparently the phone system problems had been a BIG problem for them, because to show their gratitude they gave me a used 25KVA natural gas Generac system. They even came out and did the gas plumbing! All I had to do was the electrical part of the installation.
As you found out, it's really a secure feeling when the power goes out, there's a few seconds of silence, and then the generator springs to life. We've put 55 hours of run time on the generator in the last year. We've got more than enough power to run everything in the house. If I had known how great these things are I woud have found a way to get one long ago.
@Rcurl: If I had known how great these things are I woud have found a way to get one long ago.
I agree, me too.
I have no plans to move ... but if we ever do, one requirement will be a natural gas supply -- and if we ever build from scratch (if I will the lottery), then the generator will be in the specs from the get-go.
I would save some circuits for any neighbors living within extension cord distance. When power was out for week+ in Houston after Hurricane Ike, those with natural gas generators would power their neighbor's fridge. Less power for yourself, but it builds up major "they owe you" neighbor credits.
@HankWalker: I would save some circuits for any neighbors living within extension cord distance. When power was out for week+ in Houston after Hurricane Ike, those with natural gas generators would power their neighbor's fridge. Less power for yourself, but it builds up major "they owe you" neighbor credits.
That is a really good point -- I wish I'd thought of that -- I could have saved a circuit to power all of the sockets mounted on the outside of the house.
Having said this, I believe there is a power socket on the generator itself (I'll have to look when I get home) -- plus we could always run extension cables from inside the house -- but the main thing is that I believe all of our immediate neighbors have small gas-powered generators.
Still-and-all, you make a great point -- I will certainly do this if I ever have occasion to install a new generator or make modifications (like upgrading it) to this one.
@Hankwalker: I would save some circuits for any neighbors living within extension cord distance
I agree with you. Our nearest neighbor's house is about 300 feet away, but he has several heavy 100 foot extension cords. We showed him the receptacle on a light post in the yard nearest his house and offered to let him connect to it. He was very grateful (but hasn't taken us up on our offer yet).
A couple of years ago I decided to take the plunge and get a backup generator. Natural gas isn't available on my property and my wife (as well as the neighbors) wouldn't have a large LP tank visible from the road. (I live on a corner lot, so even the back is completely visible.) So, I was left to choose between gas or diesel.
Since I already burn about 5 gallons of gas each week to mow 3 acres, it seemed clear that a little more gas wouldn't be a problem. So, I constructed a heavy duty steel shelving unit and ordered several 15 gallon steel fuel tanks to put on it. I put everyhting in the garage.
After purchasing a 12KW portable generator, I proceeded to fill the tanks. No more than half a day later the entire house smelled like gasoline. Clearly this storage method wouldn't work. But what was I to do with over 60 gallons of gas while I solved the problem? I moved everything to the concrete slab beneath our back deck (visible from the road) and then pondered the situation.
Out-buildings are forbidden (I hate HOAs) so I decided to build a shop/storage room under the deck. But what about ventilation? Since I work in the industrial autmation industry, whatever I did had to include a PLC. I ordered an explosion proof exhaust fan and used a hermetically sealed relay to control the fan. So far, nothing that would ignite gas fumes. I investigated gas fume detectors, but only found alarms for boats. I managed to get the specs on the detector portion of the boat alarm and installed a couple in the room.
As all this was being done, my wife complained about smelling gas fumes in the driveway. So, I decided to replace the leaky tanks with plastic 5 gallon containers.
So, what I have now is a great fuel storage location, complete with an automatic exhaust fan that has never been used because the plastic containers don't leak. (But if they ever do, I'm prepared.)
Now, what about generator theives? When I use the generator, I use it to power the fan so I can keep it in a locked room while it's running. Another problem solved.
In the end, I'm sure that I spent more than Max and have a smaller generator that doesn't start automatically and is not hardwired into my house. But I had fun.
@Max: So, do you cycle through the gas to make sure it doesn't go stale? Also, how long will 60 gallons of gas last if you are running your generaor at full whack?
I burn about 3-5 gals/week in my mower about 7-8 months a year. So I usually cycle through all of the containers each year. As the mowing season nears its end, I start adding a fuel stabilizer to the remaining containers.
According to the documentation, the generator will run for about 10 hours at 70% load on the 6 gallon tank. Based on that, I have about 100 hours of fuel in reserve. Fortunately, I haven't needed it and hopefully never will.
Off-topic but one thing I wonder about when I see things like this - you have posted a couple Max - would be what it would be like to have your home utterly devastated as in your first pic. To come back - or crawl out of your cellar - and find your home gone or utterly trashed must be one of the most awful experiences there is.
I guess when it happens as often and as near to you as this, you probably get a bit blase about it, like people who live in earthquake zones - do you?
And can you get insurance to cover you if it happens?
@David: ...what would be what it would be like to have your home utterly devastated as in your first pic. To come back - or crawl out of your cellar - and find your home gone or utterly trashed must be one of the most awful experiences there is.
I don't think you can possibly imagine this until it happens to you -- if you crawl out with all your family and friends alive then I'd say "Thank God" -- even worse would be to be separated from your family -- like having your kids at schoiol -- then racing to the school after the storm had passed and finding it gone -- that happened to a town in the USA not-so-long ago.
@David: I guess when it happens as often and as near to you as this, you probably get a bit blase about it, like people who live in earthquake zones...
You try not to think about it -- it's weird when you are all gathered in your "safe place" -- which for us is the middle of the house in the laundry room -- listening to the radio and there's a tornado on the way and the radio is saying "it will be in Athens at 5:10pm, Limestone at 5:20pm, Harvest at 5:25pm, Monrovia at 5:27pm..." And you think "We're in Monriovia..."
At least with a tornado, you have some warning. They don't have warning systems for earthquakes yet. At least not ones that you can rely on. I used to live in the San Francisco area so I experienced several earthquakes and it was always a suprise. I was in a car on the freeway when the Loma Preata quake hit. It was several seconds before I realized that it was an earthquake and not a blowout. Good thing there wasn't much traffic at that point... We lost power for about 24 hours, the folk on the next street over didn't have more than a glitch in their power.
You've got me thinking about this now. I need to talk to the guy who is providing the solar panels for Field Day. He sells solar panels for peoples houses so he knows what's needed for the electrical switchover. He may also do generators...
I'd just do a solar instaliation but with my luck the disaster that causes the power to go out will be the one that leave a foot of snow on top of the solar panels.... Of course I'd probably still have to shovel out the generator unless I put a shed roof over it. The project is getting bigger by the minute and I haven't even started yet.
@Elizabeth: I used to live in the San Francisco area so I experienced several earthquakes and it was always a suprise.
I was once in my room on a very high floor of a very large hotel in Tokyo, Japan when a pretty big earthquake occured. The hotel was swaying dramatically side to side -- windows rattling, pipes and metal screaching...
My room had two pretty large beds in it. Up till that time, I hadn't touched the minibar because the drinks were soooo expensive.
As soon as I realized what was happening, I made a lightning-fast evaluation that there was no way I was getting out of the hotel if it were to come down, so with (what I considered to be) great presence of mind, I leapt across the two beds and quaffed all of the scotch in the minibar. My reasoning was that, if I survived, I'd be happy to pay -- and if I died, I wouldn't care about the cost anyway LOL
@David: I guess when it happens as often and as near to you as this...
Re the picture in my column -- I'm not sure exactly where that was from -- but there are subdivisions within say 5 or 6 miles of us that were hit that bad -- completely flattened -- houses just dissapeared -- really scary
@David: And can you get insurance to cover you if it happens?
I think the number of houses that are hit as compared to the total number of houses that exist are relatively small, so insurance does cover this -- I know our insurance covers us -- I only hope we never have to use it...
When the icestorm of about 20 Dec 2013 hit the American northeast, Toronto lostbpower for up ton2 weeks in the extreme. We were without power for 4 days at fridgid temperatures. The only house who had standby power in out area was across the road and one house down and had a natural gas backup unit. One of the circuits powered the outdoor lights.
The genrator was incredibly noisy and we could hear it through securely shut double glazed windows and several covers over our heads. And the irony was that the family was away on vacation with the lights light brightly like a beacon saying, go ahead rob me! Fortunately no one accepted the invitation.
@Antedeluvian: The genrator was incredibly noisy...
And it was a natural gas generator, you say? I'm surprised -- ours has turned out to be relatively quiet -- I mean you can certainly hear it, but it's nothing like as bad as a gasoline powered generator.
re: "If there are ever any problems, it will call head office and request that a maintenance crew come out." - I really love technology.
Here in the Pacific Northwest, USA, West of the Cascade mountains, we're a very complacent, unprepared lot.
Not much happens here. It's wet enough that we don't seem to get urban forest fires. We did have an earthquake once. It knocked a few bricks off a building.
We had a tornado in my vicinity about 15 years ago that pealed a bit of steel roof off a barn. When we get a major flood, the damaged homes tend to be counted in the dozens, not hundreds due to our rivers being in valleys.
About once a decade, maybe a bit more often, we get a windstorm with velocities up in the 50 - 60 mph range.
We did have that volcano 30 years ago. That was impressive and a great adventure for someone just out of school, like I was at the time. But compared to most disasters, it was pretty limited in impact.
Our poison has to be freezing rain - like the "ice storm of 2013", but typically less severe. I don't know how common that is anywhere else, but it happens out here when the surface temperature is a bit below freezing, but the air temperature is above freezing. The rain comes down as liquid and freezes when it hits. It's a lot like a hockey rink with a thin layer of liquid water on top of the ice. We get that about every other year. But, as bad as it is, it rarely lasts more than a day. Most people don't lose power, or have it restored pretty quick.
In any case, few people out here have emergency kits. Other than real rural dwellers, generators are rare. If something really bad did happen, we'd pretty much all be helpless.
On Twitter, I follow a guy that goes by @freaklabs. He's in Tokyo. After the awful March 2011 quake, he would sometimes tweet about warnings. It seems thay have a system that will text all moble phones and give about ten second warning.
That's not enough to get out of a building, but it is enough time to get away from windows and objects that might fall and hurt.