July 2013 Update: I have since changed my plan and I am now powering my home with my Prius.
Compared to others, Sandy and Irene were merely inconveniences for our family. We were lucky and thankful for that. After getting through those storms, I actually wasn’t planning on getting a generator. However after seeing a predicated above average hurricane season, I decided it might be worth the investment and piece of mind as well (ok, and comfort).
I did a lot of research on generators and there are two main options that you can go with:
Portable Generator: There are a lot of options here with varying degrees of wattage and features. One of the main differences are inverter generators vs standard generators. Without getting too much into the engineering, what an inverter generator gives you over a standard generator are two things: they are quieter and they are more efficient at burning gas. For example, a standard generator running on 5 gallons of gas at 1/2 load will last about 8 hours. The same inverter generator will last 12+ hours.
Sound, or more specifically how noisy the generator is, might not be a deciding factor for you. Typically you want a nice quiet inverter generator for camping, hunting or for contractors where you’ll be around the unit as opposed to a backup generator for your home which you’ll put on the driveway and have the house walls to buffer some of the sound.
Portable generators are typically stored in your garage and you pull them out and connect them to a manual transfer switch in case of an outage. You have to ensure you properly store and maintain your generator so that when there is a power outage, you don’t have to deal with mechanical issues. The 7000w variety of generators are quite large and heavy (200+ lbs). Make sure that you get a model with wheels and you comfortable enough in handling as it’s more onerous then something like a lawn mower.
Standby Generator: These units are normally for those who want a fixed unit that is always available. Typically you would choose a standby generator if you have natural gas. This is advantageous because you don’t have to deal with buying gasoline and dealing with potential gas shortages. A standby generator installation is going to cost more than a portable generator because typically the units are larger, require plumbing of a gas line and includes an automatic transfer switch which will automatically switch power to the generator in case of a power outage. Also note that generators running on natural gas lose about 10% of their efficiency so you want to size them higher than gasoline fed engines. For example, if you calculated you need 7000w of power, you’ll need at least a 8000w generator.
So knowing all this, I spent a lot of time researching options. For a standby generator, CT Generator Solutions quoted me $8900 for a 11KW Generac Guardian (46 amps) 12 Circuit with Automatic Transfer Switch unit. In my particular situation they would have had to run an electric conduit about 40 feet from the panel since the generator would on the opposite side of the electrical panel. Conversely, the gas line was on the same side. This seemed like a fair quote to me as I researched that a standby generator install is typically about 1/3 of the price of the actual generator. In this example, the generator is about 3k so 9k for the installation + parts seems about right. A few reasons on why I didnt with a standby installation:
- I had originally intended on spending about 2k total, so spending almost 9k was a big leap.
- Although I love the idea of natural gas powering the generator, it felt like it was going to be a big project and would involve a lot of permits to run the electric and gas.
- The unit is quite big. If it were to break, I would have to call out a service repairman and I’m thinking that’s big $$$. Do some research on Generac repair and you’ll see a lot of forum entries on expensive service calls.
- Again, the unit is huge. According to the CT State Law I would have to have it installed at least 5′ from my house. This is important, not only because of CO2, but because of the heat it generates. If were to ignite the house, your fire insurance could be void. In my situation I would lose an area of my property that I wasn’t willing to give up.
So that left me with a portable generator solution. I researched a lot of generators and what I learned is Honda Generators are the best. They are used by professional organizations (like the film industry) and literally last forever. However, you’re going to pay a lot. You have to decide if you think that you’ll need the most reliable generator for the rare occasions when the power goes out. Typically most people buy a 7kWh generator. If we compare:
- A Honda EB65000 goes for about $2900.
- A Honda 6500I Inverter goes for about $4000 (remember, Inverter generators are quieter and more fuel efficient)
- A 7kWh Home Depot type Generac/Briggs goes around for $1000.
So why are Honda’s 3x the price of a generator that actually has more capacity? Basically, we’re back to reliability. You can research the top selling generator at Home Depot and you’ll find that the Generac for $1000 will have hundreds of reviews at 5 stars. However, what these reviews are not telling you is the longevity of this generator. I’m assuming most homeowners are thankful that they had power during the last hurricane, but what about the 2nd and 3rd outages?
I debated going for it and getting the $4000 Honda but it just didn’t make sense. I literally could buy the Generac four times! Of course, it wouldn’t match the efficiency and quietness of the Honda. One interesting item I found is that maintenance is very important, specifically changing the oil. Typically all the generators I found require an oil change after the first 20 hours of usage. After that, it’s every 100 hours of operation. However, be careful when buying a generator because I found some that suggested every 20 hours! Stay away from these generators!
So what to do. The Hondas are too expensive and I don’t trust the 1k range generators. I then found that some of the generators had Honda Engines. And while a Honda Engine is a big component of a generator, it’s not the only component. The alternator is a big piece of the equation and the lower priciest generators don’t match the quality of the Honda generators. But unless you plan on running it every day, does it matter that much?
I researched Generators around 7kWh with Honda engines and was lucky to find that my local Costco had a Powerstroke 6800 with a Honda Engine for $1000.00. As a bonus it had electric start and came with the wheel kit, trickle charger for the battery and usage meter. The only thing that it didn’t have was a meter for wattage output.
Why this is a perfect generator for me is that I get my Honda engine and more importantly, I have the backing of Costco’s return policy. Literally, I can return it in three years with no questions asked. If I were to buy it online from Amazon at Home Depot, I’m basically SOL if it breaks and have to deal directly with the manufacturer. You know how those battles go.
So now that I know the generator I want, it was onto the next part of installing the manual transfer switch. I called a few folks and the person I thought was the friendliest and came in at a fair price was Lazaro from Barrios Electric. For $850 he put in the 10 circuit manual transfer switch that I supplied. It only took a day and he tested all the circuits while the generator was running to ensure everything was running properly. Since my generator didn’t have a load meter, it was important that the manual transfer switch had wattage meters so I can see how much I’m drawing when on generator power. Even though I have ten circuits, I don’t plan on using all of them at the same time. The main ones I picked are:
- Fridge: 48″ Subzero. Peaks at 1000w, runs at about 200w
- Furnace/Hot Water: Lochnivar Knight WH55-399 – Hot Water: 250w, Heat: 400w
- Internet/Phone: Didn’t register. Estimate 75w
- Alarm: Didn’t register. Estimate 75w
- TV + Cable Box DVR: Peak 350w, Run 250w
- Kitchen Outlets
- Kitchen Lights: Didn’t register. Estimate 50w (5 LEDs)
Grouping: Office + Kitchen Lights + Alarm + TV + Kitchen Outlets + Fridge: Peak: 1200w, Run: ~600w
To be honest, everything but the first three are a nice to have. I did a lot of pre work identifying all my circuits that I wanted to use and then estimating the total wattage. If you aren’t as detailed as me, your electrician will help you with that.
For emergency prepardeness, I bought the following items:
- 2, 5 gallon gas containers
- Gas stabilizer
- 3 quarts of 10w-30 oil
- a few funnels
- oil change pan
Good luck with your research and I hope this has helped a little.