Auto Starting Portable Generator??

rob_2610September 7, 2011

Fellow homeowners,

My wife and I just bought our house almost two years ago and Irene just flooded our finished basement. I was able to borrow a generator and minimize the damage to just a soaked carpet. (I am an idiot for not forseeing this happening... well actually, i did see it coming while sitting on the couch listening to both the sump and sewage pumps turning on every 2 mins and the light bulb finally appeared over my head. We lost power as I was loading the generator up 20 mins from home.)

Anyway, I am trying to set up a more permanent standby generator on a budget and would love to have it automatically start when the power goes out. The nice standby generators are out of my budget and I have come across some large portable models (~7k watts) for decent prices (I believe I would need an automatic transfer switch, but they seem nearly as expensive as the generator! Has anyone else tried to do something similar on a budget?

Thanks in advance for any help!

Best,

Rob

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andyma_gw

A transfer switch is the only safe and legal way to have a standby set up.

    Bookmark   September 8, 2011 at 9:02PM
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rob_2610

I was hoping that someone had a source for inexpensive automatic switches, or that the parts could be bought for less and assembled...? they look expensive for what you're getting. I have found automatic switches for RV applications that are around $100.

Thanks,
Rob

    Bookmark   September 8, 2011 at 10:52PM
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exmar

I think with an RV you're talking one 20A circuit. For a whole house application, you're looking at a three wire 208V 200A (or more). Comparing apples to rhutabagas.

For what you want, you're looking at "around" $10,000 depending on how much of the work you can do yourself. My brother went that route and saved some $$ as we did the work ourselves.

Realistically, decide what you absoloutely need and figure the KW generator you need. Buy that. Get some extension cords that will feed your pumps, frig, whatever is critical to you. Arrange a ground wire from your service entrance to where you'll set the gen set. Lots of folks are killed/injured because they use an ungrounded gen set. When you lose power drag the gen set out of storage, Add new gas and plug it in. That's the cheapest way to go.

DO NOT research backfeeding your breaker box from the gen set. It can be done and will work, until you kill some lineman who's trying to get your power back. Not to mention it's illegal, you'll go to jail, and things get nasty after that.

BTW, if you go the auto transfer route, you'll have to go with a propane storage tank, unless you have access to natural gas. The tank is probably gonna cost "around" $1200 filled and will sit there year after year with you paying tank rental.

Just MHO, retired EE.

Good luck,

Ev

    Bookmark   September 9, 2011 at 9:51AM
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chas045(7b)

Seems to me that your wants and needs are very different. I agree with exmar except that you can avoid the extention cords. You need to stop the flood etc. It doesn't need to self start. If you weren't there, the gasoline would run out anyway. If you are; turn it on.

You can actually run your whole house with a 7K portable. I do. I can even run one of the house air conditioner units if I am feeling wasteful (I sure wouldn't if I were worried about flooding my basement).

Instead of a transfer switch, I have a special breaker in the panel for the generator that can't be activated until the main brreaker is deactivated. This is far cheaper than a transfer panel, safe, legal and better because any house circuit can be used while a transfer switch has to be specifically wired to choose circuits (leaving out what it turns out you need after all).

    Bookmark   September 9, 2011 at 10:39AM
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exmar

Chas, good point! I was trying to keep it workable and inexpensive.

Ev

    Bookmark   September 9, 2011 at 7:09PM
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rdaystrom

I have a 20-kW generator with a manual transfer switch. I also have a basement with a sump pump. It still flooded on me once. Why? because I was 12 hours away in another state when we got a massive rain that knocked out power for 12 hours. Since that time I read about water powered sump pumps. They are truly automatic, pump a huge amount of water, and are not reliant on the electric grid. (City water rarely goes out) Anyway it's something to think about. Link below.

Here is a link that might be useful: Water powered sump pump

    Bookmark   September 10, 2011 at 12:27AM
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rob_2610

Ev, Chas & rdaystrom,

Thanks a lot for the great advice. My dad did just mention the water powered sump pump, and I have been looking at them. Just a little hesitant to waste a gallon for every two pumped; but this is tempting as it will be more reliable than even a generator or battery sump. And hopefully I won't need it but once every couple years.

Chas, any idea where I can purchase that special breaker? Sounds like the best/cheapest option for hooking up a few essentials in the house.

I could also use some advice on my sewage pump... it runs almost as much as my sump pump when it rains!? Do I need to call a plumber to have him try to seal the pit better? I don't think this is something that I'll successfully be able to do myself...? It's in the center of the basement at least 15ft from a wall.

Thanks again,
Rob

    Bookmark   September 10, 2011 at 8:43AM
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rob_2610

Kinda sad to give up on setting up the auto starting portable generator... as I was thinking that it doesn't seem that complicated, besides the fact that it has to be tied into the main to prevent back-feeding.

For $50 I have bought and installed about 5 remote start systems in my vehicles and others... so I feel like putting a few switches in a metal box shouldn't be that much more expensive... but I guess there are a lot more regulations on anything involving home electric...

Thanks again,
Rob

    Bookmark   September 10, 2011 at 8:55AM
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chas045(7b)

I looked up generator and interlock. The link below popped up. It is essentially what I described. Mine is actually more cheezy but still gets the job done.

Here is a link that might be useful: one of the interlock kits

    Bookmark   September 10, 2011 at 11:56AM
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exmar

water powered sump pump is slick. Can't cost that much since it's basically a Venturi (anybody know what a carburetor is?) Flow through a restriction creates a partial vacuum which then "pumps." The inefficiency is an "ouch" as 9 gallons of municipal water pumps 13 gallons of sump water. However, since it's automatic and only works when you need it and there's no electricity it seems a "win-win." Unlike a lot of folks who have generators stored for years and then hope they start when needed.

Being a majority of one I still like a reasonable sized gas gen and electric cords, that's worked for me for years when needed. That being said, we live out in the country and the longest outage to date is 13 days so we have to plan accordingly.

One thing to look at in the Venturi is what kind of particulate it can suck out of the sump without being plugged?

Good luck,

Ev

    Bookmark   September 10, 2011 at 12:22PM
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