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Using a generator in a prolonged power outage.

Posted by John T. Reed on

I bought a portable generator three and a half years ago at Costco: Champion model 100155 9000 peak watts 7000 running watts dual fuel (gasoline and propane). Cost $900 something. I would have preferred just propane. I regard gasoline as extremely dangerous. Propane is also extremely clean burning.
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I am not concerned about global warming but I expect burning propane instead of gasoline extends the life of the generator. I researched and wrote about CNG powered cars years ago. One advantage according to the owner of a CNG Honda Civic is the engine does not get dirty like a gasoline and diesel.
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I tried to set it up myself. I could not get it to start. I called their 800-number where I heard how important my call was and enough hold music that I finally gave up.
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My son who had five-and-a-half years of generator experience got the generator started with some sort of subtle finesse involving moving the choke from the choke to run position. Generators are apparently still like cars were in the sixties—balky and temperamental.
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We have two 2018 Lexuses—an LC 500 and an LS 500. The LC is a V-8 with 500 CCs of displacement. The LS is some sort of turbocharged motor where the 500 does NOT coincide with the ccs of displacement. I need to ask Lexus how much I can use their generating capability in a power outage. They have multiple USB ports and they each have a 12 volt “cigarette lighter” port. You can put an inverter in that and get ac. I used it to charge my laptop. I wonder if it could run a refrigerator which is 700 watts according to the generator box, 1,400 watts for start-up.
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I do NOT think my generator is a 500 cc V-8, but the car may not be designed to generate that much ELECTRIC power.
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Oops, pardon me. The box says it is 439 cc—not that far from 500.
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The car’s electric production is mainly designed to keep the 12-volt battery charged and thereby start the car. I suspect there is some way to use a bigger, external generator to use the spinning rear wheels of the car to generate heavy duty power. Farm tractors seem to have ways to use the engine motion to do things other than movet the tractor around.
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The generator has six electric outlets (wall plugs): one 30 amp 120 V L5-30R (three circular prongs on the plug); one 30 amp 120/240V, L14-30R; and four 20 amp, GFCI 5-20Rs. The generator comes with a 25-foot, heavy-duty extension cord with the four-curved prong L14-30R. The other end is four grounded three-pronged outlets.
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It also comes with a 3-foot propane tank hose and a “smart charger” which appears to be the little box that changes AC power to DC to power small devices like answering machines and such. It also had a battery installed but not connected and a plastic bottle of precisely the correct amount of oil (1.2 quarts) and a funnel for pouring it into the motor.
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The box the generator came in said it can power simultaneously twelve common appliances including big ones like a refrigerator and a window air conditioner. And if you turn everything else off, it can power dishwasher, range, washing machine, garage door, or a water heater.
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Device has a meter with three modes: volts, frequency, and hours operated. You need to service a generator like a car only the count hours of operation rather than miles travelled. Hours is more accurate even for a vehicle if you have the engine running often when the wheels are not turning.
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It has two wheels and a folding handle on the other end. You have to lift the non-wheels end to move it. I did it at age 73 with no difficulty. I actually move the whole box out of the garage before the wheels were installed, by myself, but that was pushing the 73-year-old strength envelope. The non-wheels end may be that way to served as the connection to the ground.
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I ran it for an hour then, later about three hours on the day after the power went out at 10:30 PM. Even though the fridge was off for about 12 hours max, we have found no spoiled food inside it.
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It is quite loud. I wore my noise-canceling Bose earphones that I normally use on airplanes. I wore them outside next to the generator and inside the house next to the patio where the generators was.
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The generator needs to be outside at least six feet from the house. You cannot run it in a garage with the doors open.
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The propane tank says to store it outside on or above ground in a well-ventilated area (propane is heavier than air and will pool dangerously in holes or basements) and not let the temperature get above 80 degrees. Uh, how do you do that when the outdoor temperature is above 80º? My local gas stations, hardware stores, and supermarkets have propane tanks stored on the sidewalk in front of them in secure, but not air-conditioned, cages.
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A generator powers appliances and lights that you can plug into it. You need enormous extension cords, which we happened to have, to run from the location of the appliance or light to the generator in the backyard.
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But there are many appliances in a typical house which DO NOT HAVE A CORD AND PLUG, namely, furnace, central air-conditioning, tankless hot water heater, range, oven, microwave, ceiling lights, trash compactor, dishwasher, sprinkler system. exterior lights.
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If you look under the counter, you may find that an instant hot water dispenser or garbage disposal DO have a short cord and plug. Appliances that typically DO have a cord and plug include refrigerators, window air-conditioners, garage door openers, and washers and dryers.
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If you want to be able to power appliances that are wired into the house, you need an ELECTRICIAN to create a path with a circuit breaker and switch to do that at your circuit-breaker panel.
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I have not done that, so I do not know all the costs and other considerations but I suspect it is wise to do so. You should do a “fire drill.” Try to live without grid electric power for 48 hours. Do it in winter and summer. It will quickly become apparent which items to hard-wire.
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In another post, I need to discuss batteries, solar, and satellite phones, satellite TV, and satellite Internet, and cell phones as a way of reducing the effects of grid-power outages.

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