In a recent article on SHTFBlog called “10 Lessons From A Multi-Day Power Outage“, I fielded several questions about how my generator was set up for a power outage, so I thought I’d walk you through what I’ve done with my back up generator. You’ll need a few things and they aren’t cheap; however, if your power goes out with any regularity, or you have young kids, or you just want to be comfortable if it does go out, you might want to invest in these items. I also want to point out that this is not a long term SHTF solution to a grid down situation. This particular solution is designed for a few days to a couple of weeks of use.
It depends on how much fuel you have stored for your generator and how long it will run before breaking down. It could be used for a longer duration if necessary, but the generator would take a lot of use and abuse over this amount of time and you’d have to make sure you changed the oil and whatever else was needed for maintenance for your particular unit. Items you’ll need: generator; a transfer switch; and a cable to connect the generator to the transfer switch outlet. I wrote an article about this awhile back, but I had just installed everything and hadn’t really had a chance to use it. Now I’ve got some experience with this set up and the generator house has been built.
Why a Transfer Switch?
You don’t necessarily need a transfer switch to run your generator. When I bought my first generator about five years ago I just ran some extension cords in through a window and hooked the things I wanted to run up to it that way. For example: I ran one long cord in and used it to connect my refrigerator and freezer up, so I wouldn’t lose any food. Then I used another cable to hook up lights, the TV and DVD player for the kids, and a few other odds and ends. It works OK, but things like the water pump and furnace wouldn’t run. I also wound up with a pile of electric cords running all over the place.
The transfer switch is used when the power goes down and it allows certain items or zones in the house to run. It looks much like your fuse box, but is connected directly to the generator through an outside receptacle. With the transfer switch I can run the furnace, water pump (220 v), and certain portions of the house without having to run any extension cords into the house. It’s more expensive to do it this way, but far easier and you get a few things like the water pump you wouldn’t necessarily get using just the extension cords. If you’re good with wiring you might be able to hook it up yourself, but I hired an electrician to come in and do it right. That way I know it’s done right and when we flipped the switch over the first time I wasn’t scared of my house burning down.
4 Rules For Generator Placement
There are four things you’ll need to worry about when choosing a location for you generator:
1st – Carbon Monoxide: Make sure your generator is at least 15 feet away from your house or open windows. Check the ordinances in your state as it might be different where you live. My generator sits close to the house, but there are no windows or places for the gas to enter on that side of the house.
2nd – Noise: They can be fairly noisy and after a few days the constant droning might start to drive you a little crazy, especially if you have it close to your main living space. Mine is placed around the back of the house and this helps keep the noise down.
3rd – The Cable: Make sure your cable is long enough to reach the receptacle on the side of the house from where your generator sits. This is usually a 220 volt line, so it’s not like you can just plug in an extension cord!
4th – Shelter: If this is an extended period or long term storage you might want to consider building a small generator housing for it to keep the weather off. I used pallets and some cement board to build mine. I’ll detail this out in my video below.
Do you have to set yours up exactly the same way as mine? Of course not. Figure out what your electrical needs are and build a system for it. My mother-in-law has a large propane unit that kicks on automatically and runs the whole house. Since I didn’t have $10,000 to throw at a system I went with something a lot smaller, but still effective for me.
Sound off below!
If you don’t have a transfer switch, which I don’t, predetermine which breakers you are going to have on while using the generator and mark them. I have a list of instructions in my circuit box listing the procedures and circuit breakers to turn off prior to turning on generator. That way if I were not around, someone could still hook it up correctly for my wife. Also run the generator under a load once in awhile. I use mine at least once a month, while I am doing yard work. Instead of plugging in my trimmer and edger to the house, I start the generator and use it for about an hour.
Another alternative to no transfer switch – turn off your main breaker and any high draw breakers that would overload your gen. Make a cheater extension cord with 2 males ends to run from your gen to an outside outlet. You will essentially be using existing house wiring as your ‘extension cords’ and powering all outlets on the same phase as the outside outlet your gen is plugged into. Make sure main remains off and be careful of hot male end of cheater cord. It can be unsafe if you don’t know what you are doing. If your outdoor outlet is a 240v that matches your gen, you can power both phases in your house.
Great post very important information everyone should have one. Our power grid is woefully inadequate. Not to mention, a terrorist target. It is not a matter of if it will happen but when
Good, informative post – great place to start for anyone considering getting a generator!
Great post and vid, very informative. Thank you
Things to consider for keeping your generator running from a mechanic.
Avoid storing fuel in your generator. Drain the carburetor float bowl before storing. Usually there’s a bolt in the bottom to drain the fuel. Don’t fully remove just loosen. Should you choose to keep fuel in your generator be sure to add a fuel stabilizer such as stabil or the like. Upon storage shut the fuel switch to off and let the engine run out of fuel. Should you choose this method of storage be sure to start the unit a few times a year.
Cold generators sometimes don’t like to start. I’ve had issues starting mine in below 0F temps. You may need to warm the unit up by bringing it indoors or warming with a propane heater. Sometimes you can get lucky by warming the spark plug over a flame and installing the plug hot back into the motor.
Keep extra oil for the generator. It’s very easy to fuel foul a cold engine. Once the engine is fouled enough the oil becomes fuel saturated. At that point the motor will not start. You will need to change the oil. You will note the oil smells strongly like fuel. It’s also very likely you will need a new spark plug.
Keep in mind if your generator has a low oil level switch they will cause the motor not to start. They seem to go bad fairly often. Removing the wires from the low level sensor generally will cause the motor to start should the switch be the issue. Sometimes you will need to connect the two removed wires to themselves inorder to override but that’s the exception not the rule.
I always have extra motor oil and plugs for my generator. Nothing worse than having it not start when you need it.
Be careful using an extension cord to back feed your house. Most cords are 14awg and can handle only 15 amps of current. A cord that is 12awg can handle 2o amps. These are not alot of capacity if you are running the furnace refrigerator and freezer and other items in you house. I strongly recommend talking to a qualified electrician to learn how to safely use a backup gererator. Smoking a generator or your house is not such a good thing.
yeh, what tango said: “cheater cord”, (see above)
but create a positive lock-out device for the main breaker. your genny doesn’t have enough oomph to power up the neighborhood, but can still deliver a nasty shock to the “electrician” working nearby…
you don’t have enough insurance to cover that.
I’d like to have a couple “sub-panels”, to isolate the
Ham Shack, workshop and the garage from the main house
… but like Murphy said: no process can be made entirely foolproof, because fools are so ingenious.
My first back-up was a 5K Gas powered unit, loud as heck and like Steve said, hated to be started up when cold. I took to storing it in my garage which was a little better. It did the job, but was less than optimal due to storing of gas. If you have this set-up, use it at least once a month, the worst thing you can do to an engine is let it sit.
I finally bought a big propane unit since I have 1000G tank. It has a exercise function and a auto-transfer switch. It cost a total of 4K from unit to install. It was costly, but it is very handy. Downside is that it will burn through about 1.5 G per hour, so it is only used sparingly. For a smaller need I bought a EU1000i Honda, quiet and sips gas.
I am collecting up materials for small solar and battery set ups. The first one up is for the office. When I get it working to my satisfaction I will set one up for comm’s, LED lighting, and some media. Redundancies.
I like the pallet shed. Put some runners on the thing to drag it away from the house if necessary.
If you don’t have a generator (or the funds to buy one) or you just don’t want the hassle of maintenance you can do as I have and buy a power inverter. It uses the electric produced by your car’s alternator (or just a 12v battery) and converts it to regular household outlet voltage. A 2000w model will run you about $200. The draw backs are that it won’t run a 220v appliance (stove, AC, Water heater) and you can’t really run more than one or two appliances at a time but, I’ve run my refrigerator, sump pump, T.V. and furnace (you may require a separate outlet depending on how it’s wired) on it during hurricane Sandy. The biggest upside is that you don’t need to maintain another piece of equipment. You already maintain your car for everyday driving. This just bolts in.
I have Honda 2000 ei tri fuel with an adaptor to run in the basement with several CO monitors.
I know it’s small but big enough to run furnace and deep freezer.
Do u want your neighbours to come knocking to stay warm?
I do not mind helping nsughbouts and friends during ice storm blackouts. I will and I did help.
But for other SHTF scenario I said do not come. It’s cost me extra money and effort to get where I’m now.
Rember you get what you pay for.
2nd. dB is not linear but exponential.
3 dBs diference between 2 gens is 100% increase in noise.
27k whole house generator, 1,000 gal propane tank (only 850 gal when full) auto transfer switch, three weeks of two-4hour runs to keep freezer and refrig at normal temp- that gives me three weeks to use up freezer and refrig. After three weeks, the shtf situation is over or 90% of neighbors are gone or dead! All necessary “stuff” to keep the curious and hungry away during these three weeks. Problem- How to find a few good men(and wives) with similar supplies and attitude and maintain opsec????
I have seen people adapt a car muffler to quiten them down so not to become a nuisance or advertise to the world you have power when SHTF
Personally, I don’t have or want a generator, too much expense and/or zero OPSEC! The amount of fuel one can safely store won’t last that long in a SHTF situation. I have plenty of non-electric backups, enough for a least a year (candles, propane, wood, etc.). The small amount of electric gear that I consider to be necessary can be powered by rechargeable batteries and several small solar chargers. The noise of the generator (things will be a lot quieter without the TV blaring) and the electric lights will be a dead giveaway to less-prepared neighbors whose kids probably ‘can’t’ live without milk and their boom boxes (and other electronic toys). They most likely won’t consider your property rights for long! If you feel you can’t get along without a freezer, then get a propane-powered one because though more expensive, you can store a lot more energy in propane tanks than batteries and propane can be easily stored long term; though rotating your supply isn’t a bad idea! Good Luck!
I posted in your previous article about our Kohler 20kW whole house system. We’re on propane, like everyone else in the neighborhood. Rationing only goes so far. Does anyone have insight into how to safely siphon propane from home tanks? Even being able to refill 5 gal tanks for cooking would be useful.
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