backup generator - portable or PTO?

tom_nwnj(z6 NJ)September 19, 2011

I am looking to buy a backup generator, probably 10kWatt to 20kWatt range. The portable Generacs of that size are about $1400 to $2,500 range.

PTO powered are actually in the same price range (after adding in the 3pt hitch hardware and PTO shaft), without the tractor. This PTO generator (12KW) comes to $2120

My 1958 Ford 641 is rated at 33HP (water cooled), 134 CI/2195cc. Gas tank is about 11 gallons, run at least 8 hours on a tank.

Comparable portable Generacs have HALF the engine displacement or less, air cooled. Also, the portables are much louder than a small Ford tractor

Does that mean that a PTO generator will likely run better, last longer?? If you had already had the tractor, which one (PTO or portable) would you get?

Thanks in advance!!

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Interesting Question!!

FWIW, I live in the country on a farm and have farm tractors, as does my brother who lives nearby. We both have portable generators for the convenience of just dragging them out and starting, connecting and it's done. The only tractor mounted gensets I'm aware of in this area are used by dairies to provide power to their "milking barns" in an outage-no idea why.

Does your tractor have a tach (accurate) so as to assure that you're putting out something real close to 60 cycles? Assuming you're going to run your house and we all have computers, flat screen TV's etc. and they are notorious for being unhappy with "rough" power from a generator. I've read, but have no experience with, the fact that microwaves, dishwashers, etc. have sophisticated "computer" controls and are also sensitive.

Will the tractor always be available and ready to go or will you have to remove things and hitch up the genset? Also, it's a '58 is that a 6Volt system and does it start well in cold weather? I know I can get any of my tractors going, but it may take a while, particuarly the diesels. Will you always be available to do whatever is needed to get the tractor up and running or will your family be in the dark while you're at work or out of town?

Do you have kids, dogs, or anything else who might wander up to the spiinning PTO shaft and be injured? PTO's have killed and maimed more folks than all other tractor accidents combined.

What provision will you have to connect the tractor genset to your load? If you're talking 20KW that's some big cable or a bunch of smaller ones via a sub panel.

While the tractor genset would work, you may find that by the time you buy the additonal panel, cabling, transfer switch, etc. it would be easier and cheaper to buy a Generac where all that's provided. Set the generator somewhere close to your house, wire it in and forget it.

Do you have access to propane? A lot of folks in this area bought Generac units from Lowe's for around $2500 and they work really well. Auto start once a week, start when the power fails, shut down when it returns, don't have to haul gas, low oil shutoff. etc.

I've included a link to a generator interlock which is pretty slick should you decide to go with something smaller and portable. Using this, you don't have to add sub panels, transfer swithces, etc. and it's legal. I suppose you could also use it with the tractor, depending on size.

As I said, very interesting question! Let us know how this develops as you continue your exploration.

Good Luck,


Here is a link that might be useful: Generator Interlock

    Bookmark   September 21, 2011 at 8:10AM
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tom_nwnj(z6 NJ)

Those are good points about the 3-pt hitch.

I had an electrician look at the project (I am not going to wire the transfer switch). He doesn't think that 12KW is sufficient. The next size 3pt hitch is 25Kw, but requires a 50hp tractor. Don't have that, certainly not going to buy it. So the 3pt hitch generator is out.

Generac has a 17.5kw portable for $2700 (just 500 more than the small 3pt hitch). So that is what I am considering now,

But still thinking about the propane fired unit although very pricey. Also, have to check with the building dept on the propane ... setbacks, etc.

    Bookmark   September 22, 2011 at 7:55AM
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tom_nwnj(z6 NJ)

Just checked with the building people (fire inspector). He says there is a setback for propane tanks, plus I need a guardrail or steel posts around the propane tanks. He was a nice enough guy on the phone, but this stuff is insanity. My yard is not a Burger King parking lot. Folks wondering why nobody can get a job. Well, maybe because nobody can do anything.

Going with the portable generator, check more on models, but probably buy the 17.5 Generac.

    Bookmark   September 22, 2011 at 10:54AM
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Hmmm, did you consider the smaller hundred pound propane tanks? Think of the oxy bottle in a oxyacytelene torch kit. two or three together may be a viable option. Perhaps your building inspector is thinking of a 375 or 500 gallon tank like we use here.

For grins I looked up consumption for a 14KW genset, 84 cuft/hr at full load, 100 pound tank has 2160 cuft. That's about 25.7 hrs per tank. Probably get about twice that as not all your loads are starting continuously unless you're running electric heat or something like that. Three tanks would give you 6 days. Not the best option, but something.

One issue we all have with portable gas gensets is the "mystery fuel" we buy at the pumps these days. 30 days in the tank and it's pretty much "lost it's ginger" as the old timers used to say. So Stabil or one of the other additives is critical, as is carb/fuel injector cleaner to offset the crud that builds up due to the gasahol mix we may be buying. I also try to recycle the gas in the generator into one of my vehicles and replace it periodically, generally as we head into the spring. Spring is when we get extended outages due to ice storms briniging down limbs and powerlines around here.

Good luck,


    Bookmark   September 24, 2011 at 8:02AM
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tom_nwnj(z6 NJ)

Thanks for that exmar, the setback rules are for 150 gals and up. But those posts in concrete (the "industrial park look") are for everything.

And the propane dealer was quite specific that all permits are required, signed off, no exceptions.

Doesn't really matter. The propane dealer said a standard setup for the standby generator is 2X100 gal tanks. No point arguing with them, 'cause if we have a large outage, as did a few weeks ago, they are the ones committed to coming out and re-filling, maybe twice per week. If I went with much smaller, they would probably say they cannot get to my house every day. Or it would probably work out that way eventually.

No, have to get the portable. Just giving it another few weeks to sink in.

    Bookmark   September 25, 2011 at 9:45AM
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Sorry, " you fought the good fight" anyway.

At least you'll save some $$ going with a portable gas unit. Also look at the link I sent you on generator interlocks, that works, is legal, and will save you $$ compared to transferswitch, cabling, etc. etc.

Good luck,


    Bookmark   September 25, 2011 at 1:35PM
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tom_nwnj(z6 NJ)


Thanks also for the link to Interlock. The problem is that I have 400 amp service, two main panels. From what I understand, I can only backfeed one. My electrician says most of his job here will be to reconfigure the two service panels so that only one contains the circuits that I want to run from the generator.

In that sense, I don't think that the Generator Interlock gets me up and running. I will still need some electrical work, (which I don't want to do). I think I will just pay him. But thanks for all the thoughtful comments!!

    Bookmark   September 25, 2011 at 3:45PM
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Stay active in the forum. A couple of months from now, you'll have all the good info to share!!!

Be well,


    Bookmark   September 25, 2011 at 6:21PM
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We got a Portable Generator in '02 because of the frequent power outages. We live remote, so with it, I could power the refrig, tv, lights and small stuff - but no water!! I had an electrician come in and install a transfer switch - we were really in business....water! Since then we have had numerous outages lasting up to 7 days and it was very manageable. I picked up a 7K a/c unit that we have pressed into use during the summer outages. I like the portable for the fact that we can move it to a friends house when needed. Oh yeah, I picked up a Honda e2000i Inverter Generator and carry it in my truck - Honda makes a great product. Truly believe gen sales are on the up swing due to our loosing power more frequently.

    Bookmark   October 1, 2011 at 12:58PM
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So we don't confuse others, 'backfeed' is the wrong choice of words for what you are planning in either the interlock or transfer switch options. They are both specifically designed to prevent backfeeding onto the main line.

I highly recomend the interlock although in your unique case you would need two interlocks; one for each panel and you would need a second cable split from generator to the second panel.

The interlock has two advantages. Cost is lower because the electrician just has to attach the interlocks, cable connectors and generator breakers. The more critical advantage is that ANY circuit is available to you, while the transfer panel is hard wired and that is all you can get thereafter.

    Bookmark   October 4, 2011 at 7:52PM
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