Standby Generator

nyc_sportAugust 29, 2011

Okay, necessity is the mother of projects. My house on Long Island has been without power since Saturday and will be for several more days, which is not the worst thing in the world, but it is a weekend house and the idea that we could be without power for a week in the summer is a pain, but a week without power in the winter would be a disaster, and a disaster I might not know about.

So, we are looking at generators. In the abstract, I would not care about having full access to power but only powering heat (oil fired hot air), well pump and a few outlets, but if we are going through this process I am thinking something more versatile is the way to go. But, I also don't really need some massive, loud generator running 24/7, particularly during the week when we are not there annoying neighbors. So, I saw some interesting computer controlled generators that shift loads and can power the entire (3300 sq ft) house with a relatively "small" unit.

I am thinking about installing a propane fired generator near our pool heater, which is about 200 feet from the house. We have a 500 gallon propane tank that powers the pool heater, and our grill and stove. Is this going to be an insane expense to run electric 200 feet? Does the control need to be nearer to the house for any reason (the electric meter is between the two, about 20 feet from the house, and the generator would be behind a detached garage, so electronics could be indoors)? Any other issues with being that far away? Can these generators be programmed to cycle off (i.e., when I am not there during the week, I really just want to be sure that the house stays heated, and the refrigerator/freezer stays cold)?

Thanks for any insight you can provide. I also would welcome any recs/criticism of particular generators.

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Ron Natalie

There's no insanity with the long run other than you'll probably want to use a larger wire to counter voltage drop. The generator itself can go just about anywhere, the transfer switch (or whatever you're going to use to tie it in the house, these also generally tell the generator to run) wants to go as close to the service disconnect (main panel) as you can get it.

I'm not sure I've seen a provision for it to automatically run intermittently, but you could certainly turn it off when you go away and turn it back on manually.

    Bookmark   August 30, 2011 at 7:43AM
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I think you are looking for a generator to keep the heating and plumbing going in your holiday home while you are away in the winter. So as to ensure you have no burst pipes etc.

Note a generator with auto start can meet this need. I.E. will come on line while the power is down. There is a limitation in that a 500 propane tank, 400 gallon actual propane (with 20% buffer) will only keep your gen set running for maybe 5 to 7 days. And your propane tank may not always be full.

A different solution is to replace your heating and cooling circuits with a glycol mix. Specialist firms do this for houses. The glycol is special in that is is less toxic to people if it is drunk when compared to car anti-freeze. Also the company needs to split your plumbing into (a) HVAC plumbing and (b) drinkable water.
If the power is out, the gycol will not freeze and hence no burst pipes. NOTE that for the drinkable water bit of the house you will need to drain that out when you leave. However that is usually easy to do, especially when compared to draining an HVAC system.

best, Mike.

    Bookmark   August 30, 2011 at 11:25AM
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"The glycol is special in that is is less toxic to people if it is drunk when compared to car anti-freeze."

Ethylene glycol is the common car antifreeze.

It is deadly poisonous if ingested.

Polyethylene glycol is so safe it is used as a food additive.
That is what is in the RV water line antifreeze, and can be used in systems that have limited cross connections.

The down side is that a system with antifreeze is not as efficient and looses some capacity.

    Bookmark   August 30, 2011 at 4:26PM
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Thanks for the replies. We already have antifreeze in the heat circuits. I am more worried about the water lines (all Pex tubing, although once the well pump goes out there will not be water pressure to flood), as well as spoiled food, etc. I see many relatively large generators in the 12KW range that use about a gallon of propane an hour, which would enable a pretty long run on our propane supply.

    Bookmark   August 30, 2011 at 6:48PM
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Propane is not cheap. But it is not easily stolen nor does it go stale. Engine cranking with propane in very cold temperatures can be challenging.

    Bookmark   August 30, 2011 at 7:16PM
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You have antifreeze in your oil-fired hot air heat? How does that work?

    Bookmark   August 30, 2011 at 8:16PM
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"You have antifreeze in your oil-fired hot air heat? How does that work?"

Hydronic forced air; and 4 zones of radiant floor heating that I left out of the equation.

    Bookmark   September 1, 2011 at 6:37PM
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Since you already have propane, that's the way to go. It doesn't go bad like petrol. I use a tri-fuel generator that will run on petrol, propane or natural gas. When the lights go out, it's nice not to worry about refueling....

Many of the smaller, permanent installation generators will automatically start when the power goes out - as well as turning on once a month just to keep things limbered up. This feature seems to be standard with units starting at about $3,600 or so. Check out Northern Tool for lots of choices.


    Bookmark   September 1, 2011 at 11:35PM
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"You have antifreeze in your oil-fired hot air heat? How does that work?"

Hot water is very popular in the NE.

The larger heating loads make it a nice system.

    Bookmark   September 2, 2011 at 9:11AM
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Oh, I am very familiar with hydronic heat and all of its wonderfulness compared to annoying forced-air.

    Bookmark   September 2, 2011 at 6:17PM
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