Core Power Standby Generator vs Portable for Emergency Backup Power

Five days after Isaac, New Orleans waits for power

A tire store in Kenner, United States, has a banner in its window stating no power in the suburb post Isaac disaster.

Residential consumers considering a generator for backup power have two main choices—a standby generator or a portable.

The first stop at this point is an Internet search for backup generators. Choices run from one extreme to the other, with tiny units that can barely run a home computer, to liquid-cooled models capable of supplying half a block in the average suburban neighborhood.

A look at the prices and it seems that portables win the battle for cost. But prices at the home center or the online shopping mall are deceiving and there are other costs to consider, and other factors that make a big difference in value.

Comparing a standby system like the Generac Core Power and a portable like the GP6500E isn’t exactly comparing apples to apples, but it’s probably as close as you can get.

Obvious Differences

The Core Power System shown with Automatic Transfer Switch (ATS)

Generac 7-Kilowatt Core Power with ATS

The Core Power is a 7-kilowatt standby generator system. It is permanently installed and operates automatically. Outages are sensed immediately and the generator starts.

Within seconds, the standby system is safely supplying electrical power to the home’s essential appliances and circuits. It runs quietly at about 67dB off the home’s existing natural or LP gas supply.

The all-weather enclosure allows for operation at any time.

 

Generac Portable GP6500E generator

The Electric Start GP6500E from Generac

Generac’s GP6500E is a 6.5 kilowatt portable generator with electric start. During a power outage, it sits in the garage or storage shed until the rain stops, then you wheel it onto the driveway, fill it with gasoline, connect the power cord to the house, and start it.

The noise level compares to similar units in the industry which places it at 75 to 80dB. Every 5 to 10 hours it must be shut off, allowed to cool, and refilled with up to seven gallons of gasoline which may be hard to purchase during a power outage.

The GP6500E, like most portables, is not recommended for use in the rain.

Installation

If you want to power your furnace or well pump, or other permanently installed appliance, you’ll need a transfer switch. The Core Power comes with a 50-ampere, prewired automatic transfer switch. The GP6500E requires a separately purchased manual transfer switch which (for a comparable model) will run an additional 480 to 580 dollars.

The Core Power will likely install just a few feet from your home. It is designed for that purpose and meets all the necessary codes for a safe installation. The installer will connect it to your natural or propane gas supply and it will run for days or even weeks without the need to refuel.

You’ll need a secure place to keep the GP6500E until you need it, and room for about 25 gallons of gasoline to run it for approximately 32 hours at half load. For safe operation, it must be at least 10 feet from the house and you’ll need a way to secure the unit to prevent theft.

Cost

The difference in cost comes down to a few hundred dollars. The portable with a good manual transfer switch will cost less out of the box. However, it can’t hook itself up and and it won’t start automatically in the pouring rain or when an ice storm has you stranded away from home.

The Generac Core Power will cost a little more out of the box and needs a natural gas or propane connection, but it starts and runs automatically to keep your pipes from freezing, the refrigerator and freezer cold, and the sump pump running. You won’t have to invest in numerous gasoline containers or store and rotate large supplies of gasoline.

Bottom Line

If you’re considering a portable for home backup power, consider all the factors and not just out-of-the-box cost. When it comes to keeping your home and family safe, even when you’re not there, the benefits of a standby generator system like the Core Power are obvious, and the cost differences negligible.

Portables are great for power in places without utility service or when you have to rely on an external supply of power. But when it comes to a reliable source of power that keeps your home essentials operating, they can’t compete with the standby system.

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Choose the Right Automatic Transfer Switch for Standby Generators

Guardian Standby Generator shown with Generac's Smart Switch ATS

Guardian Standby Generator with Automatic Transfer Switch (ATS)

The automatic transfer switch—or ATS—is what makes a standby generator system a fully automatic appliance.

They are to a standby generator what a thermostat is to a furnace. Just as a thermostat turns the furnace on and off as needed to regulate temperature, the ATS controls the generator to supply power when needed and manage power to ensure that essential appliances are able to run as needed.

Not all automatic switches are the same and selecting one that works best for your needs is just as important as correctly sizing your generator.

Transfer Switch Overview

A transfer switch controls the power source. When one power source is selected, the other power source is isolated from the system. This is important because it prevents one source from feeding the other. In a residential or commercial system, it prevents a generator from endangering utility workers by unexpectedly energizing the utility lines. It also protects the generator from damage when power is restored by the utility.

As the name implies, automatic transfer switches work automatically. When the power goes out, they can switch between utility power and generator power as required. A manual transfer switch requires someone to physically move the switch from one position to the other.

Automatic Transfer Switches come in two main types. One contains only the transfer switch and the included options. It manages the power source for a panel of circuit breakers which may serve an entire building or just a few essential circuits. The other contains both the transfer switch and the circuit breakers the switch serves.

Managed Power

Most circuits in a home or business are 120-volt circuits limited to 15 or 20 amperes. A few appliances require 240 volts and as much as 50 amperes.

Managing the 240-volt circuits prevents overloading a generator. Because a 20-kilowatt standby generator supplies 80 to 85 amperes at 240 volts, adding one or two high-voltage appliances to the demand can create an overload condition.

An ATS with managed power can prevent the overload by allowing the appliances to run only when power is available. If one central air unit is already running, and another wants to start, the managed power option forces the second unit to wait until the first stops.

Other loads that include electric water heaters, well pumps, electric ranges, or electric dryers are also managed, often in tiered system that prioritizes their importance.

Service Entrance Rating

According to the National Electrical Code, a service entrance must incorporate a main disconnect. The service-panel’s main circuit breaker performs this function in many homes. A separate main disconnect in its own panel is incorporated in temporary buildings or in some jurisdictions.

The main disconnect has requirements that exceed the capability of common circuit breakers. In order to serve as service entrance equipment, a transfer switch must incorporate these requirements into its design. The Service Entrance (SE) rating allows a transfer switch to replace the existing equipment already performing this function, which simplifies installation and operation.

Current Rating

Automatic transfer switches must safely carry their maximum rated current whether the current is coming from a generator or from the electric utility.

Understanding Watts, Volts, and Amps

Even if the generator installed can only supply 80 amperes of current during an outage, an ATS installed as a service entrance in a home with 200 ampere utility service must safely handle 200 amps of current, even if the home never uses that much.

Conversely, if an ATS will only serve a limited number of circuits and operates as a sub-panel, it only requires a rating that will handle the maximum current possible. A 50-ampere circuit breaker in the main panel can feed a 50-ampere ATS during normal operation as long as the generator’s main breaker is also 50 amperes or lower—neither the utility or the generator can supply the switch with more than 50 amperes.

ATS Choices

Most manufacturers supply automatic transfer switches designed to work with their standby generators. Each incorporates design features specific to the generators they manufacture. Choosing a transfer switch that was manufactured for use with a specific generator brand is usually the best way to go.

Package deals bundle a generator and ATS together. If you plan to purchase a 20-kilowatt standby generator for a home with 200-ampere service, selecting a package with a 200-ampere SE-rated transfer switch and 20 kilowatt standby generator is probably your best option. The features provided by the generator and by the transfer switch will govern your decision.

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Standby Generator Fall Maintenance and Winter Preparation

Ice-covered trees and lamp from the freezing rain and sleet by Christopher Waits

Ice-covered trees and lamp from the freezing rain and sleet. Photo by Christopher Waits

The bitter cold and record snowfalls during the winter of 2014 caught many people by surprise. People should be less surprised that the Farmer’s Almanac is predicting much of the same for this winter, just a few months away.

…the winter of 2014–15 will see below-normal temperatures for about three-quarters of the nation. ~Farmer’s Almanac

Add in the forecast for higher than normal precipitation, and we have the formula for another long, cold, and snowy winter. Cold weather and precipitation combine to tax our nation’s power grid with higher heating demands and weather-related equipment failures.

Last year, ice storms in the south knocked out power to tens of thousands. In the north, trees laden with snow and ice fell on power lines, sometimes in remote areas.

Backup Power

A generac standby generator installed outside a home

A Home Standby Emergency Generator – No Less Important than your Furnace

A winter power failure brings with it the possibility of frozen water pipes. Ice in pipes expands and causes the pipes to burst. When the temperature rises again, the pipes pour thousands of gallons of water into the home. The result is a catastrophe if no one is home to shut the water off.

Standby generators eliminate this worry, especially in areas prone to outages. When the power goes out, the generators detect the outage and automatically begin supplying the home with electrical power to keep the furnace and other important appliances operating until the electric utility is able to restore power.

Winter and subfreezing temperatures make the starting and running of a standby generator more difficult. Fall is a good time to prepare your emergency power source for the cold and snow and ensure it is ready to run whenever it is needed.

And if you don’t have a standby generator, now is the time to have one installed.

Fall Maintenance

Keep Generators Clear of Snow

Keep Generators Clear of Snow

When you are cleaning the yard of leaves and other tree debris, be sure to remove all the leaves and dead grass from around the standby generator. Keep all the vents clear of grass, leaves, and anything else the wind has blown against them. Proper air flow keeps the generator from overheating and supplies the unit with the air it needs to operate.

Even if the maintenance schedule says you have a few hours left before changing oil, filters, or plugs, do you really want to do that when it’s 10 below and the power is out?

Don’t wait. Stock up on enough maintenance supplies and oil to keep the unit running for a few weeks. Perform routine maintenance now, before the weather turns cold.

Once the snow starts to fall, clear a path to the generator and keep the area surrounding it free of snow and ice. Brush snow off the cover and keep the vents clear.

Preparing for Winter

Generac Cold Weather Kit for Air Cooled 8 - 20kW Standby GeneratorsIf you live anywhere the temperature falls below 40 degrees F, your generator is a good candidate for a cold weather kit. These kits help the engine start in cold weather by keeping the battery and other parts warm. Cold weather kits include various combinations of battery heaters, oil heaters, block heaters, alternator dryers, and air breather dryers.

Kohler Carb Heater for 8.5RES, 12RES, 14RES/RESA and 14RESL/RESALCold Weather Generators and Cold Weather Kits

If the power goes out on a cold winter night, the generator will start easily and operate normally to keep your home supplied with power. It’s just an added bit of security that ensures the generator will start and run.

 

Help ensure smooth starting and reliable operation in the winter months with the Briggs & Stratton 240V Cold Weather Kit tested to start at 25°F. The thermostatically controlled battery warmers and oil heaters activate as the temperature drops. Each kit includes a battery warmer and two oil heaters.

If you live in a rural area and use propane to run appliances like your furnace, hot water heater, range, and dryer, don’t forget that your standby generator also runs on propane. During extended outages, call your propane supplier to refill the tank before it is half empty. You may wish to consider the installation of a larger propane tank.

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Guardian Emergency Home Backup Generator Systems for Comfort Security

A Generac Automatic Home Standby Generators Installed Outside a Home

Generac Guardian Automatic Home Standby Generators

Power outages occur for many reasons across America. Every year, hundreds of thousands, and often millions of utility customers experience long-term outages that last days or even weeks. After catastrophic storms like Katrina and Sandy, some customers have waited more than a month for crews to restore power. Equipment failure can sometimes take days to repair, especially equipment located in remote places.

The Guardian Series from Generac is a line of air-cooled standby generators that provide power when the utility cannot. With power capacities that range from 8 to 22 kilowatts, Guardian generators can provide power for just the absolute necessities or all the conveniences of everyday life.

Generac Guardian

Guardian 20kW Home Backup Generator

Guardian 20kW Home Backup Generator

Generac has been designing and manufacturing backup generator systems for more than fifty years and supplies more residential standby units than any other manufacturer. It was Generac that first designed backup generators for residential use and built a reputation that consumers recognize and trust.

The company backs that trust with a five-year, limited consumer warranty on all Guardian standby generators, and offers customer support 24 hours a day, seven days week, every day of the year from the Wisconsin based headquarters.

Guardian Generators operate on either LP Gas (propane) or Natural Gas and are easily switched between the two fuels during installation.

Automatic Operation

A 20 kW Guardian shown with an Automatic transfer switch

Generac Guardian Fully Automatic Standby Generator with ATS

Standby generators are fully automatic, permanently installed appliances similar to a furnace or central air conditioner. When the utility power is on, the system stands by waiting and watching the incoming power. The Evolution Controller at the heart of every Guardian system senses a power outage the moment it happens and begins a sequence of operations to being supplying power to the home within seconds.

The controller implements a programmed delay that guards against false starts during momentary outages, then starts the engine and allows it to reach operating speed. Next, the Automatic Transfer Switch (ATS) is instructed to isolate the home from the electric utility lines and connect power from the generator. Within just seconds, the home’s electrical power is restored.

And it all happens automatically whether the homeowner is in the kitchen or halfway around the world.

Power Options

A Generac Guardian Installed outside a home.

Generac Guardian Keeps Your Home Supplied with Power.

Keep the essentials operating or power the entire home?

Generac Guardian 8, 11 and 14 kilowatt standby units can provide power to essential appliances such as as furnaces, air conditioners, refrigerators and freezers, pumps, and medical equipment while keeping some lights on and charging cell phones and laptops. Your security system battery won’t run down and you can rest assured your home is protected from freezing pipes or flooded basements.

Larger 16, 20, and 22-kilowatt generators can power an entire home using an ATS equipped for managed power. Appliances like air conditioners and electric hot water heaters only run when there is enough power while keeping the rest of the house supplied with power.

Transfer Switches

Standby generators are often packaged with an ATS that includes power management to control appliances that draw large amounts of power.

Standby generators and Automatic Transfer Switches are Packaged Together to Save Money.

Standby generator systems work in concert with an Automatic Transfer Switch (ATS). Most manufacturers supply switches specifically designed to work with their standby generators. Generac combines Guardian generators and transfer switches in money-saving packages.

When a standby system supplies power to the entire house, an installation with the ATS between the electric meter and the main service panel is the best option. These Service-Entrance (SE) rated transfer switches meet national codes that allow them to control the source of power for the entire home and also serve as a main disconnect for the service panel.

Another option uses the transfer switch as a sub-panel served by the main service panel. In this case, the ATS has its own circuit breakers to supply only essential circuits with power during an outage. This type of switch normally receives power from the service panel, but during an outage it automatically switches those circuits to generator power.

Controls

Mobile Link is a cutting edge and affordable cellular based remote monitoring

Mobile Link Option

Guardian standby generators are equipped with state-of-the-art Evolution Controllers that features a two-line, multilingual display for status, programming, and alert functions. A basic wireless display extends generator status inside the home with red, green, and yellow LEDs and an alarm.

Mobile Link replaces the wireless monitors and provides access to the controller via the Mobile Link App for use on smartphones or tablets, and via a web-based dashboard. It also also allows email updates and text message alerts, and can send your local dealer or technician messages when maintenance or service is required, ensuring that your generator stays up and running.

Generac keeps your home powered when the electric utility cannot.

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Prepare for a Cold Snowy Winter with Standby Generator Rebates

Two vehicles, barely visible and buried in snow after winter storm Nemo.

The Aftermath of Winter Storm Nemo in Massachusetts, 2013.

As kids head back to school, thoughts turn to the coming winter. The winter of 2014 brought unusually severe ice storms along with record snowfalls across the South that stranded motorists and cut power to hundreds of thousands of utility customers. The National Guard opened their armories to keep some residents warm, while others sheltered in malls and Red Cross facilities.

Meanwhile, the Midwest and East battled record snowfalls that came one after another. People struggled to keep their driveways and walks clear while power companies worked to keep the power on. Heavy snow made accessing substations and other utility facilities difficult and interfered with efforts to restore power.

Cold – Snowy Winter Predicted

New York City streets clogged with cars and drivers after a snowstorm.

Clogged Streets After a Winter Snow and Ice Storm

The Winter of 2015 is promising cold and snow for much of the country. The Farmers Almanac, well known for its average 80-percent-correct long-range forecast is predicting a cold and snowy winter for the northern tier of the country, and colder than average temperatures across most of the South. Some portions of the country may see slightly warmer temperatures, but more precipitation than usual.

Lessons learned from last winter include staying off the roads during and after an ice storm. Don’t abandon your vehicle if you become stuck, and hire someone to shovel your snow if doing so is too strenuous. A number of people died or were seriously injured after leaving their stranded cars, and the frequent, heavy snows contributed to heart attacks across the country.

No less important is to prepare your home for winter, and a source of backup emergency power is just one way to keep your home safe and warm during a winter storm. A standby generator can keep the lights on and the furnace running. Without one, you may find yourself seeking shelter someplace else while you worry about frozen pipes that may burst and flood your home.

Take Advantage of Rebates

While back-to-school sales are not necessarily associated with standby generators, manufacturers like Kohler offer rebates and referral bonuses. Now through the end of September, Kohler offers a $150 rebate on the purchase of a new 8.5 to 150 kilowatt standby generator. The generator must be purchased between August 1 and September 30 of 2014 and faxed or emailed requests sent by October 15, 2014, and mailed requests postmarked by the same date.

Kohler also offers a referral rebate when you buy a standby generator. Refer a friend, family member, or neighbor, and you can receive a rebate of 75 dollars. This offer is good until the end of 2014 and requests must be postmarked, emailed, or faxed by January 15, 2015.

Kohler 150 Rebate Banner with house & generatorAnd don’t forget Norwall’s Referral Program which offers a 50 dollar Home Depot Gift Card when you buy a generator and your referred friend buys one also. Offer is valid through December 31, 2014.

Staying Prepared

Kohler Automatic Residential Standby Generator by Kohler Power Systems

Kohler Automatic Home Standby Generator

It is not all that hard to imagine that the coming winter will be any less brutal than last year. Put together an emergency kit for your car in the event that you become stranded. A good emergency kit starts with blankets, candles, flashlights, chocolate bars and protein bars, and matches. Several candles can raise the interior temperature of a car by 20 degrees. Always carry water in your car.

If your home and family is not protected by a standby generator, now is the time to purchase and install.

Before winter arrives, service your standby generator and keep it ready. Follow the manufacturer’s maintenance schedule and stock several maintenance kits for use during long-term outages. When a storm hits, keep the generator clear of snow and maintain a path to the unit for easy access.

A standby generator offers peace of mind by keeping your family and home safe during power outages caused by storms, accidents, and equipment malfunctions. Don’t you think it’s time your family was protected?

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Generator Noise Levels – How Loud Are They

Automatic Home Standby Generators

Automatic Home Standby Generators

Generators make a positive impact on our lives by providing power when we need it, and where we need it. When the electric utility supply is interrupted, we can rely on standby generators to fill in the gap until the utility power is restored. They keep our homes cool, our food safe, and prevent the basement from flooding while providing light and entertainment.

On job sites, at sporting events, and while camping in the wilderness or traveling in an RV, generators supply electric power for a wide variety of needs and conveniences that range from refrigerators and air conditioners to coffee makers and strings of festive camping lights.

Noise associated with a internal combustion engine can be bothersome, if it is too loud or too close. Many communities have noise regulations and they apply to air conditioning units and standby generators alike, as well as other noise producing machines. Campgrounds also enforce rules designed to reduce noise pollution, and even if your generator is quiet, turning it off at night is polite and friendly.

Noise Measurements

The ‘bel’ is named in honor of Alexander Graham Bell, but the unit of measure is rarely used. Instead, we measure sound using the ‘decibel’ which is one-tenth of one ‘bel’. For comparison purposes, the base level that most sounds are compared to is 70 decibels.

Consider these everyday sound levels:

  • Passenger car going 65 MPH heard at 25 feet – 77dB.
  • Music in a living room – 76dB.
  • Vacuum cleaner – 70dB
  • Central Air Conditioner at 20 feet – 68dB

70dB is twice as loud as 60dB which is considered fairly quiet, and four times as loud as 50dB which is very quiet. Office or restaurant conversation weighs in at 60dB, and quiet conversation at home at about 50dB.

Moving the other direction, we have a garbage disposal at 80dB, an electric blender at 88dB, a jack hammer at 100dB, and front row seats at a rock concert at 110dB, which is painful to many people and can cause serious, long-term damage.

Levels from 80 to 100dB can cause damage after eight hours of exposure, and each increase in sound level increases the likelihood and severity of damage.

Generators and Noise

Cummins Onan 20kW LP Liquid Cooled Standby Generator

Residential Standby Generators meet Noise Restriction Requirements

The good news is that generators designed for use in residential areas comply with noise levels that allow you to keep your sanity and won’t anger the neighbors if they have their windows open.

Many central air conditioners are rated at about 68dB when heard from 20 feet away. The Generac Guardian line produces just 66dB at 23 feet. Kohler Power Systems and Briggs & Stratton are slightly louder at 69dB for their 20 kilowatt units, and Cummins Power Generation weighs in with just 62db – not much more than conversation in a restaurant.

A Mercedes Benz RV with car-top carriers.

RVs provide a home for traveling at any time of the year.

If you’re planning to go camping or RVing, it’s good to know that your generator won’t bother nearby campers. Inverter models are very quiet. The Generac iX 2000 produces an estimated sound level of 63dB while the Westinghouse WH1000i comes in at about 59dB – easy enough to stand next to and hold a conversation without trying to talk over the generator.

Even Commercial Models like the Generac Quiet Source are noise friendly with ratings from 65 to 68dB—quieter than many commercial air conditioning units.

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Facts About Portable Generator to House Connections

A generator connected to a house with a dedicated cable and inlet box.

Connect Portable Generators with a Dedicated Cable and Inlet Box to a Manual Transfer Switch

When a power outage occurs, there is no doubt that the best way to provide backup emergency power to a home is with standby generator system. An automatic transfer switch controls the home’s source of power and switches it between the utility supply and the standby generator supply as required. It happens automatically and the generator runs on municipal natural gas or LP gas from a residential storage tank.

In cases where a standby generator is not practical or can’t be installed for some reason, a portable generator can supply power during an outage.

Portable Connection Options

Generator connecting to inlet box with dedicated cable.

A Generator Connected Through an Inlet Box to a Manual Transfer Switch.

Connecting appliances to a portable generator with extension cords is the most basic option. The cords plug into the generator’s receptacle panel and then connect inside the house to the required appliances. This works fine for appliances such as refrigerators and freezers, or a sump pump that is keeping the basement dry during a storm. However, permanently wired appliances won’t receive power this way, and that includes furnaces, central air conditioners, electric ranges, and well pumps.

A manual transfer switch can supply essential circuits with electricity. Electricity is distributed through circuit breakers in a dedicated panel that is controlled by the switch. During an outage, electricity is supplied by a portable generator through a dedicated cable that connects the generator to an inlet box which supplies power to the switch.

Safe Emergency Power

Pre-wired 30-Amp Manual Transfer Switch Kit Including Switch, Dedicated Cable, and Inlet box

Pre-wired 30-Amp Manual Transfer Switch Kit Including Switch, Dedicated Cable, and Inlet box

The reason for a transfer switch is simple. A manual or automatic transfer switch isolates the home from the utility lines when power is supplied by the generator. Without a transfer switch, it is quite possible to accidentally feed the utility lines with a generator. The transformer that supplies the house will convert that generator power from 240 volts to as much as 69,000 volts.

More than enough voltage to kill or seriously injure a utility worker.

If you accidentally backfeed a utility line with your generator and your actions cause injury or death to a utility worker, you will be held responsible for those actions. Never backfeed your home and you won’t accidentally backfeed the utility lines.

Manual Transfer Switches

A manual transfer switch is exactly what its name states. It is a manual device that requires a human to throw the switch from utility to generator. When that happens, the circuits supplied by the generator are isolated from the utility lines and connected to the generator lines. Returning the switch to the utility reverses the action and reconnects utility power.

When a power outage occurs, the homeowner moves the portable outside to a predetermined location that won’t gather standing water or allows deadly exhaust  to enter the home. The dedicated power cable is plugged into the generator panel and into the inlet box. After starting the generator and allowing it to warm up, the generator’s main breaker is turned to on, and then the manual transfer switch is moved to the generator position.

Power is now supplied to the circuits connected to the manual transfer switch.

When the utility restores power, the process is reversed. The manual transfer switch is returned to utility mode to restore power to the home. The main breaker is turned off, which removes power from the cable and receptacle panel. Finally, the generator is turned off, allowed to cool, and put away.

Extension Cord Size

Only use outdoor extension cords with the correct gauge wire. Size extension cords based on the current that the generator receptacle is capable of supplying. If a receptacle has a 20-amp circuit breaker, then it could supply 20 amps of current, and a 12-gauge extension cord is the minimum size.

A common mistake is to size the cord by the appliance requirement. For instance, using a 16-gauge extension cord to run a 10-amp appliance off a 20-ampere generator receptacle. If someone plugs another appliance into the cord, the cord could overheat and cause a fire.

Keep extension cords on hand that will supply the maximum amount of current that might be drawn through the cord. Don’t rely on guesses or that no one will make a mistake.

Dedicated Cables

Dedicated cables connect a 240/120-volt generator outlet to the inlet box. Distributor or manufacturer supplied cables have the correct connectors for the amount of current they can handle. A 30-amp cord has connectors rated at 30 amps, and will only connect to 30-amp receptacles. The same is true of 50-amp cables.

The cables have four wires configured in similar way to an electric dryer or electric range cable. Two wires each carry 120 volts for a total of 240 volts. Another wire serves as a neutral or return for the 120-volt wires. The fourth wire a ground and connects to the generator’s metal chassis and to the ground bus in the manual transfer switch.

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Tips for Choosing the Right Portable Generator

Generac Portable XG Series XG8000E Electric Start

Portable Generators Provide Power When and Where You Need it.

Portable generators make a lot of sense when you need power where there is none available. Job sites without utility service, campgrounds that lack electrical hookups, picnics, tailgating, and anywhere else that can’t be reasonably reached with an extension cord.

Fortunately, portable generators are available with capacities that range from less than 1000 watts to more than 15,000 watts. Whether you need a little power at a campsite or a lot of power on the job, there are portable generators designed to fit nearly every need.

Power Quality

A sine wave illustrating how current direction changes 60 times per second in AC current..

A clean AC electrical signal at the proper frequency and voltage provides the best power.

Portables can produce good quality power, but many do not, and that is especially true in the off-brand market where manufacturers save money by using low-tech speed governors and alternators, or inadequately sized motors.

The A-C signal should have a frequency of 60 hertz with a sinusoidal waveform, but as load increases, frequency drops as the motor slows and then current increases as the voltage drops with the frequency. The distorted power characteristics can play havoc with electronics and may damage motors.

Engine Safeguards

Generators are often used for extended periods of time. It’s not uncommon to start a job-site portable at the beginning of the work day and keep it running all day long. At the campground, operating a small refrigerator will require a generator that can run all day and into the night.

The Westinghouse WH1000i

Inverter Generators are Quiet and Fuel Efficient

One very important safeguard for engines is a low-oil shutoff feature. If oil levels drop to a level that could cause engine damage, the generator will shut down automatically before damage occurs.

Another safeguard that isn’t as obvious is an adequately sized engine. When generators run at their maximum specified power, an engine that is barely able to keep up won’t take additional load easily and wear increases dramatically. A better generator will have an engine that provides an adequate margin of power for the generator’s continuous load rating.

Backup Power

Generac model# 5875 shown with automatic transfer switch

Standby Generators are a Better Choice for Emergency Home Backup Power

Planning to buy a portable generator for use when the power goes out? Think carefully before you go ahead. Some manufacturers advertise their products for use during a power outage, but a portable generator may not be the best choice.

Unlike standby generators, portables are not automatic and they tend to be noisier and have shorter maintenance periods. They don’t start automatically and won’t run if you are not home to hook them up, start them, and keep them running with a continuous supply of fuel. If you can’t install a standby unit, a portable may help out—if you’ve properly prepared your home in advance.

The best connection is provided through a manual transfer switch and inlet box. The generator connects to the inlet receptacle with a heavy-duty cable from the manufacturer. The transfer switch isolates your home from the utility lines and powers a limited number of circuits from the generator.

A second option is to use outdoor-rated, heavy duty extension cords. These allow you to power individual appliances, but furnaces and other hard-wired appliances won’t have power.

Important Safety Note: Never backfeed your home through an appliance outlet. Online forums and blogs may say it is okay, but it is a potentially deadly practice that can kill utility workers or unsuspecting neighbors. Always connect the home with a manual transfer switch and a correctly sized cable.

Load Capacity

Wherever you plan to use your generator, choose one that will supply enough power for all your loads and provide a margin that prevents accidental overloading. Total the power requirements in watts for each load, then add the highest surge load to the total.

Briggs & Stratton Elite 7000 Watt Electric Start Portable Generator

Briggs & Stratton Elite Series products have heavy-duty components and features for long-lasting durability. They perform tirelessly around the home, farm or on the job.

Surge is the additional power a motor or other inductive loads require to start. Many motors use triple their running power as they start. A refrigerator that normally uses 900 watts will require 2700 watts for a second or two when the compressor motor starts.

If the power in watts is not provided for an appliance, calculate it by multiplying volts by amps. Amps should be provided on an appliance nameplate. In some cases, power is expressed as V-A, which roughly translates to watts.

A five-amp appliance that runs on 120 volts uses 120V x 5A = 600 watts.

Some generator brands list their models by surge load rather than continuous load. Compare these two models. Although they appear similar, one provides much more power than the other.

  • Company A offers the M-3500 with 4200 watts of surge power and 3500 watts continuous power.
  • Company B offers the S-3700 with 3700 watts of surge power and 2900 watts of continuous power.

Selecting a good portable generator that fits your purpose and your power requirements will ensure your investment provides long-lasting service and electrical power when and where you need it.

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Active Tropics Heat Up with Five Tropical Cyclones

As of this date, August 04, 2014, the ocean tropics are very active with five named storms.

Five tropical cyclones shown in the ocean tropics including Bertha, Iselle, Julio, Genevieve, and Halong.

Five Active Tropical Cyclones in the Ocean Tropics

East Coast

Bertha has been downgraded from a hurricane to a tropical storm. It is the second named storm of the Atlantic Hurricane Season and located several hundred miles east of North Carolina. Rapid weakening is expected over the next 48 hours as it moves north before turning east, likely as a post-tropical storm. Bertha’s main effect on the USA will be Rip Currents and high surf.

Rip currents are dangerous and may sweep a swimmer far offshore in a matter of minutes. If caught in a rip current, escape the current by swimming across (parallel to the shore) instead of against it. Most swimmers cannot swim against the current and will tire without making significant progress. Swimming parallel to the shore and away from the current makes it much easier to escape the effects.

Hawaii

Two storms will affect Hawaii later this week. Hurricane Iselle reached wind speeds of 140 mph as a Category 4 hurricane. It will make landfall on the Big Island of Hawaii late Thursday or early Friday as either a weak category 1 hurricane or a strong tropical storm. It will affect the smaller islands with tropical force winds, heavy rains, and high surf.

Approximately two and half days behind Iselle is Tropical Storm Julio which is gradually strengthening. Julio will probably reach hurricane status sometime in the next 48 hours and will probably retain its strength through the weekend. Current estimates have Julio sweeping the northeast coast of the Hawaii islands about 90 miles offshore on Sunday and Monday if it stays on its present course.

TD Genevieve and Typhoon Halong

Tropical Depression Genevieve in the Pacific Ocean presently has 35 mph winds as it moves northwest over the Pacific Ocean. It is expected to strengthen to a tropical storm on Tuesday, and become a category one hurricane by Saturday as it passes north of the Marshall Islands.

Typhoon Halong is a category four storm with wind speeds of 132 mph and is producing waves nearly forty feet high. The storm will retain hurricane strength for at least four days as it turns north toward Japan.

Forecast

The Atlantic Hurricane Season Forecast has been reaffirmed as a below average year according to studies by the NOAA and the Department of Atmospheric Science at the University of Colorado. Cooler than normal ocean temperatures, strong high-level wind shear, dry dusty air from the Sahara Desert, and higher than normal air pressure at sea level over the Atlantic will prevent the formation of many tropical cyclones late this summer and into the fall season.

Thus far, the only named storms have been Arthur and now Bertha. Arthur passed over the Outer Banks of North Carolina and Bertha will miss the coast entirely. If the 2014 prediction is correct, only three to four more named storms are expected before November 30.

The Eastern and Central Pacific Ocean will remain very active for the remainder of the season. Another low pressure system located off the coast of Mexico has a medium chance of forming another tropical cyclone within the next five days.

Preparation

A blue plastic tub filled with emergency supplies including food, water, first aid kit, and numerous other items.

Keep a Portable Emergency Kit Stocked and Ready
(image via Ready.gov)

Residents of Hawaii should stay informed by monitoring broadcasts by National Weather Service and local authorities and by following instructions. The NWS Central Pacific Hurricane Center has a detailed list of preparation instructions for residents.

Despite a below normal season, Gulf Coast and East Coast residents should remain prepared with planned evacuation routes in the event a hurricane threatens land. Service standby generators and keep maintenance supplies on hand to keep them running for extended periods. Have a ready bag of emergency supplies. Store potable water—one gallon per person, per day—for a week or more and non-perishable foods including canned meats and vegetables.

Mobile Link with Generac Guardian Standby Generator

Generac Guardian with Optional Mobile Link – Access your Generator Controller from anywhere

Portable generator owners should perform maintenance, rotate fuel supplies and keep them fresh with fuel stabilizers.

An NOAA weather radio can provide alerts 24 hours a day, seven days a week to keep you informed of approaching bad weather.

Stay prepared. A hurricane or tropical storm can strike within days of forming. A less active than normal season still offers a good chance that a hurricane or tropical storm will reach land this year. Don’t be caught unprepared.

Image: Five Tropical Cyclones by NOAA NWS Ocean Prediction Center

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Basics of Home Generators for Emergency Backup Power

An infographic showing various severe weather types that impacted the USA during 2012.

2012 U.S.A. History of Extreme Weather

Events in recent years have punctuated the fragility of our nation’s power grid. Hurricane seasons over this year and last have been relatively quiet, but tornadoes, ice storms and other weather-related events have done their share to knocked out power.

There are always equipment failures and accidents, and with every outage comes the possibility of days without electrical power.

Trying to find emergency power during an outage is difficult. Home centers quickly sell out their inventory of portable generators and standby units take time, permits, and electricians to complete the installation.

Backup Options

Mobile Link with Generac Guardian Standby Generator

Generac Guardian Standby Unit shown with Mobile Link Option – Stay Connected 24-7 from anywhere.

The best option for homes and businesses are standby generators. They work with an automatic transfer switch to detect power outages and switch on automatically to supply electrical power when the utility cannot.

When the electric utility restores power, they turn off and switch back to the utility supply. Most residential and commercial standby generators operate on natural gas or propane which eliminates frequent refueling. Since they are fully automatic, they work whether you are at home or away on vacation.

Generac XG Series Portable Generator

8000 Watts of Portable Electric Power.

Portable generators can also supply emergency power, but they do not operate automatically. Typical operation involves starting the generator and connecting appliances with extension cords.

A better way is a manual transfer switch with an inlet box, which allows powering of furnaces and other permanently connected appliances. Portable generators usually run on gasoline and require regular refueling.

Maintenance

Maintenance kits offer items necessary to perform complete routine maintenance.

Maintenance Kits Keep your Generator Running.

Generators can run for extended periods of time. Just like a car needs maintenance, so does a generator. Check the oil with every fueling on portable generators and every 24 to 48 hours for standby generators. Top off the oil but do not overfill. Don’t forget to check the coolant level on liquid-cooled models and fill as necessary.

Oil and filter changes are required every four to six days (100 hours is typical) for portable generators and every eight to ten days (200 hours is typical) for standby models. Spark plugs change intervals run approximately every 400 hours of operation.

It is a good idea to keep a three week supply of maintenance items on hand for use during extended outages. With proper maintenance, a generator will offer years of service and thousands of hours of run time.

Power Capacity

candle with flame

A power outage can leave you with this for your only source of light and warmth.

Many homeowners will opt for a unit that delivers power for essential needs. Refrigerator, freezer, pumps, furnaces, and a few lighting circuits. The amount of power required for those items determines the size of the generator. Businesses often have fewer options for standby power and will usually select a unit that not only keeps essentials operating, but also keeps their doors open.

Fuel use is directly related to power consumption. Base consumption begins with the fuel required to start and run the engine, and then increases with the electrical load. The less power used, the less fuel is consumed.

Standby units begin at about 7 kilowatts and run up to 22 kilowatts for air-cooled machines. Liquid cooled units can supply from 20 kilowatts to 150 kilowatts or more. Conduct a power audit to determine the amount of power required.

Installation

Home Standby Maintenance

Home Standby Maintenance

Unless you have considerable experience as an amateur electrician, you’ll want to hire a licensed professional to install a standby generator or a manual transfer switch. Standby generators also require plumbing for the gas lines, and you’ll need to check with the gas company to make sure the line and meter can supply the correct gas pressure and volume.

Some portable units require changes for grounding when connected to a home. Be sure to check the owners manual and provide for proper grounding. Knowing how to do it in advance will save fumbling in the dark and pouring rain with flashlight.
Don’t forget that electrical and plumbing work requires building permits and inspections.

Fuel Storage

Standby units run on either LP or Natural gas. LP gas is stored in tanks while natural gas is supplied through municipal gas lines. LP users will want to make sure they have enough storage to run the generator and home appliances for days.

Portable generators that run on liquid fuel such as gasoline present a problem. Fuel ages and must be rotated on a regular basis. Storing gasoline in regular containers is restricted by many communities. Home owner insurance can also impose restrictions in some cases. Check with local authorities before storing large quantities of fuel.

Plan now and the next power outage won’t leave you in the dark.

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