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Generators for Dummies :O

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  • May 26th, 2017 3:01 am
[OP]
Newbie
Apr 30, 2017
22 posts
11 upvotes

Generators for Dummies :O

If you have a generator that you plan to use in case of a blackout, unless your generator is an "inverter", you could kill your furnace and replacing a furnace can easily cost between $2K and $6K. Apart from your furnace, any electric/electronic devices/appliances/tools connected to a 'regular' generator will have a much shorter life.

The reason for such situation is THD, or Total Harmonic Distortion. Thousands of people in America (where blackouts are more frequent than in Canada) ended up having to replace their furnaces. In particular those with a variable speed furnace.

A very good place to start reading about THD is the following http://support.fluke.com/find-sales/Dow ... NG_A_W.PDF

THD is supposed to be about 4%. I measured the hydro at home and is around 4.3%. I also measured 'regular' Champion generators (not inverter) and the THD would vary between 13% and 30%+. The same results will apply to any brands of generators as long as they are not 'inverters'. The higher the load on the generator, the more THD. Mind you, I connected a single 13W CFL bulb and had a THD of 18%. As a rule, the higher the THD and the longer something is connected to a generator, the faster you will kill whatever is plugged into the generator. Of course, it is not a matter of just being plugged into a gen., but drawing electricity produced by the gen..

There are tools to measure the THD, such as, https://www.itm.com/product/amprobe-acd ... aQodz5sEVw this one is on the expensive side, but if you search you should be able to find one in the $200.

The bottom line is learn about THD before shopping for a generator. This way you won't end up spending $$$$ to replace what you have killed while using a generator during a blackout. Hope it helps.
Last edited by JustMe2016 on May 16th, 2017 8:04 pm, edited 1 time in total.
18 replies
Deal Fanatic
Apr 20, 2011
7747 posts
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ON
Even inverter is not necessarily the best. You specifically want pure sine inverter for the cleanest/safest power for expensive devices.
If it just says inverter, it might be the cheaper kind.
Sr. Member
Jul 19, 2014
999 posts
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Snow Road Station, O…
Did you do any research into line conditioners ?
My solution for laptop and cell phone charging was a battery charger , Deep Cycle Battery and an Inverter it's what I had on hand .
My furnace , well pump and sump pump are real old school so dirty power from the Champion shouldn't be a problem but I sized my generator using FLA ratings off the plates plus some .
Rotate stored fuel spring and fall into the vehicles.
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Nov 16, 2015
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t.drizl
As you can imagine, it is completely insane to get a motorcycle engine spinning at 3600 rpm for 8-12 hours non-stop. It certainly can take it, but it will put a lot of wear on the engine. Because of that, I eliminated residential standby gens and started to explore the commercial gens.
This is why I've given up on generators altogether; I could make the same investment on a small solar array and bank of batteries and it will never wear out, and later on I can invest in increasing the size of the array and sell to grid.
Please excuse my son, he's artistic.
Deal Expert
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Jun 12, 2007
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London
1. I thought the big bonus of inverter generators were that they were much quieter than regular generators (because they throttle down under light load). If you are operating during an overnight summer blackout, your neighbors are going to be very irate if you leave the a regular generator running all night

2. Some inverter generators have wireless remote start, so you don't have to run the unit all night. You can start it up every few hours to keep your fridge cool or heat up the house, then shutdown again once you are set

3. Other inverter generators with a good reputation (besides Honda and Yamaha) are Kipor (lots of dealers) and Boily (only 1 official dealer in Canada)
Sr. Member
Jul 19, 2014
999 posts
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Snow Road Station, O…
So I guess I'm good with the pumps and the furnace with the Champion and I'll use the propane for the dirty burgers .
I wonder if there's an inexpensive way to clean up power ?
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Dec 6, 2012
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Montréal, QC
I have an Onan 4000 (1 cylinder 300cc 3600RPM) and it can runs for days without problem powering a lot of thing, AC, microwave, etc. They say you have to change oil every 150h (very easy to do, and no oil filter on mine), adjusting the valve lash is at 450h. I know people who go beyond those number, and some have 4000+ hours on their generator.
The Smok Stak are your friend at https://www.smokstak.com/forum/forumdisplay.php?f=6 :)
Sr. Member
Jul 19, 2014
999 posts
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Snow Road Station, O…
JustMe2016 wrote: There is something that can be built, but it is quite complex and if ever it fails you could damage or kill whatever is connected to it. It is wiser to start with clean electricity than to take dirty electricity and attempting to clean it.

I was thinking of an old MG set fed ac from dirty gen and the dc side inverted a back to ac with a modern inverter . Just have to find an old surplus small mg set , just a dream.
Sr. Member
Jul 19, 2014
999 posts
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Snow Road Station, O…
JustMe2016 wrote: Last November Canadian Tire had the Champion 2000W inverter generator on sale at $500. That was one hell of a bargain price. Plus you can join two with the kit and have a peak wattage of 4,000W. Costco had them on sale online a few weeks ago at $600. I guess they are sold out as it is no more there. But the kit to join two gens together is still on Costco website on sale for $77 (regular price is $100).
Good deals ,If anyone is shopping for a gen Tractor Supply Company has them on sale quite regularly just keep checking until the one you want comes on sale .
Deal Expert
Aug 2, 2004
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East Gwillimbury
JustMe2016 wrote: I'll start by the beginning instead of jumping to a conclusion as what applies to me might not apply to you.
Actually your situation is practically identical to mine. I'll be moving to a new construction home in a few weeks. I have hardwood floors house and I want a backup in case the electricity goes out.

I need to keep a freezer running and a few servers running in case of emergencies.

I am going to do my PDI (Pre Delivery Inspection) in a few weeks, so I haven't had a chance to look at the furnace, but I assume builders are cheap and will probably give me a PSC (Permenant Split Capacitor) blower and I will probably have to retrofit it with an ECM (Electroically Commutated Motor) one (DC motor) to be able to use a generator.

I appreciate the detailed response. Did you need someone to install the generator into your panel?
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Dec 11, 2005
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This post is somewhat misleading. The number of devices in the home that rely on pure sine wave has shrunk dramatically over the years, as more and more things move to electronics / DC. Anything running on DC is completely isolated from the AC sine wave. This includes your PC, most all your electronics, even very often nowadays your TV.

In all of these cases, the only thing at risk is the external power supply - the "wall wart" - and even then, the odds of it incurring damage are minimal. On the off chance you get extremely unlucky and you damage it, the cost to replace is very cheap.

The main things you need to worry about are variable speed motors, and many compressors (fridge, freezer, etc). Battery chargers that connect direct to AC (including rechargeable toothbrushes) are notorious for issues, and may even cause a fire. IE if your battery charger DOES NOT have a "wall wart", *do not use it with a non-inverter generator*. This includes power tool battery chargers.

Is running your fridge off a generator a few hours a day for a few days a year (IE a typical blackout scenario) going to affect it's lifespan in any noticeable way? Highly unlikely in my opinion. I have run my fridge and freezer off my generator for blackouts at least twice a year every winter for the past 5 years. Never caused an issue.

OP mentioned problems with a furnace, I presume he is referring to an oil or gas furnace. I have zero experience with those types of heat so can't comment.
To be nobody but yourself - in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make you everybody else - means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight; and never stop fighting. -- E. E. Cummings
Sr. Member
Sep 4, 2016
680 posts
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pwntiac wrote: This is why I've given up on generators altogether; I could make the same investment on a small solar array and bank of batteries and it will never wear out, and later on I can invest in increasing the size of the array and sell to grid.
Batteries are not eternal and trouble free.

Neither are generators.
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Nov 16, 2015
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t.drizl
invite wrote: Batteries are not eternal and trouble free.
  1. Neither are generators.
[*]Correct I meant the panels will never wear out. Solid AGM batteries will last a very long time and aren't a huge pain to recycle and replace. Much better than having to buy a whole new axle every 200 hrs or paying for routine sanctioned maintenance to keep inside warranty IMO. Not to mention you have to cycle that fuel every now and then. Pain in the butt.
[/list]
Please excuse my son, he's artistic.
Deal Guru
Feb 9, 2006
12252 posts
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Brampton
pwntiac wrote: [*]Correct I meant the panels will never wear out. Solid AGM batteries will last a very long time and aren't a huge pain to recycle and replace. Much better than having to buy a whole new axle every 200 hrs or paying for routine sanctioned maintenance to keep inside warranty IMO. Not to mention you have to cycle that fuel every now and then. Pain in the butt.
[/list]
Panels will also wear out the best ones have a life of ~20years.
The cheaper ones (relative) are 10years.
Everything has a life time.
JustMe2016 wrote: Yesterday I was reminded of a mistake made by many people who buy a generator as backup power. A friend called to let me know how glad he was he now had a setup similar to mine where at the flip of a switch his whole house is on backup power. He then proceeded to tell me that he had purchased the Yamaha EF6300ISDE. And to which I replied, "you do know that your gen will need about 10 gallons of fuel per day (running 10-12 hours)?"

This is a classic mistake people make when buying a gen for backup power. Not realizing that a generator is only half the equation. The other half is the fuel. A generator without fuel is as useful as a car without wheels. It is for this reason that unless you have something like a 2,000 lbs propane tank buried in your backyard, it is wise to buy a gen that consumes as little fuel as possible as it might be very difficult, or impossible to get fuel during a blackout.
Get a propane inverter generator that can converted to Natural gas. (costly but that should do it) Unless you're talking about a serious disaster that takes out power and breaks buried gas lines. Most of the time tho in Ontario your biggest concern is ice taking down power lines.
It's why I wired my hook up minimal safe distance from the NG BBQ Hookup.
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Feb 9, 2006
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Brampton
JustMe2016 wrote: Propane ignites at ~900F, while natural gas ignites at ~1200F. The engineering that goes into the design and fabrication of an inexpensive motor for a gen does not usually allow for a 33% tolerance above specs.

The basis for a backup system is the analysis of ALL eventualities. Failure to address all eventualities means your backup system is not foolproof. What's the point of spending $$$$ if you could possibly end up with a non operational backup system? Might as well not have a backup system and take your chance as you are already taking a chance by not addressing all eventualities.
You know that these multi fuel generators already exist right?
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Nov 16, 2015
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t.drizl
tebore wrote: Panels will also wear out the best ones have a life of ~20years.
The cheaper ones (relative) are 10years.
Everything has a life time.
They say that but I don't really buy it. I've only seen claims of 25 years, actually. Of course nothing lasts forever but what is it that destroys the panels? Weathering obviously. It's not an irreversible chemical reaction or anything. So what, change the glass? Not a big deal. It's not like they up and shatter right on the 20 year mark. Do you know anyone who has actually had these panels for 20 years? I'm pretty sure they just say this so people don't get upset when they start dying from old age, you have to pick number somewhere. I bet you're going to replace the generator within 20 years anyway; still the far superior investment in my opinion. I don't fancy the thought of scraping snow off the buggers when it's crappy outside but I fancy even less the thought of dicking around with a mechanical engine in the snow for hours, or worse, waiting for the repair man to make time for me to fix a system I'm incapable of fixing myself. Oh yeah, and the fuel is free.

Once you set up solar it just putters on, and if there is a failure you're going to find out about it when it happens - not when you go to use it for the first time in months when you need it in an emergency the most. And when there's a problem you can do something about it yourself - red to red, black to black, derp to derp. You can still have a working system if you have to eject one or more panels. IMO it's a far more cheap, durable and reliable solution.

If you go big enough and feed into the grid it might even pay for itself after 20 years. A genny will not pull any of its weight at all.
Please excuse my son, he's artistic.
Deal Guru
Feb 9, 2006
12252 posts
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Brampton
pwntiac wrote: They say that but I don't really buy it. I've only seen claims of 25 years, actually. Of course nothing lasts forever but what is it that destroys the panels? Weathering obviously. It's not an irreversible chemical reaction or anything. So what, change the glass? Not a big deal. It's not like they up and shatter right on the 20 year mark. Do you know anyone who has actually had these panels for 20 years? I'm pretty sure they just say this so people don't get upset when they start dying from old age, you have to pick number somewhere. I bet you're going to replace the generator within 20 years anyway; still the far superior investment in my opinion. I don't fancy the thought of scraping snow off the buggers when it's crappy outside but I fancy even less the thought of dicking around with a mechanical engine in the snow for hours, or worse, waiting for the repair man to make time for me to fix a system I'm incapable of fixing myself. Oh yeah, and the fuel is free.

Once you set up solar it just putters on, and if there is a failure you're going to find out about it when it happens - not when you go to use it for the first time in months when you need it in an emergency the most. And when there's a problem you can do something about it yourself - red to red, black to black, derp to derp. You can still have a working system if you have to eject one or more panels. IMO it's a far more cheap, durable and reliable solution.

If you go big enough and feed into the grid it might even pay for itself after 20 years. A genny will not pull any of its weight at all.
The base crystalline layer(the photovoltaic cell) breaks down. They're made of silicon and that basically degrades over time. I'm no expert, I just read about it a while ago when I was thinking about if the MicroFIT program would be worth it.

Have I seen them fail over a 20 year period? The Answer is yes. It's not that they just one day give up the ghost, they lose efficiency over time where it finally gets to a point where it stops generating power. I have some solar battery maintainers where the cells have died in a 5-6 year period. In addition I've been on projects where it's time to replace the solar roof because they were built in the 90s and we're in to years 25+
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Nov 16, 2015
375 posts
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t.drizl
I guess I sit corrected then, thank you for that. But even now it still seems like the better investment to me.

I'm under no illusion that you'll make the money back lickity-split but the sheer fact that you can recoup anything is a major bonus and the fact that it is always on means it is so much more likely to work when you need it - and that is after all the whole point. A genny isn't going to do you a lot of good if it won't crank.

Besides, at the rate things are going new panels will be a dime a dozen in 20 years and X times more efficient. Of course they'll only be a quaint backup to your household thorium reactor...
Please excuse my son, he's artistic.

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