Another Generator Question [How to minimize gas consumption]

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Leesbro63
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Another Generator Question [How to minimize gas consumption]

Post by Leesbro63 » Sun Nov 04, 2012 8:44 am

The current SANDY problems got me thinking. Is there an optimal way to minimize gasoline usage in a home generator? I would guess that frozen and refrigerated foods would be at the heart of the question. Such as 3 hours on, 4-5 hours off? I can also run my natural gas furnace with my electric generator (electric needed for the motor). I am thinking that if you cranked the heat up for a few hours then shut everything down to conserve gasoline, that would work too. House might get to 80 degrees then fall to 60 but would be more efficient on the gasoline.

Any thoughts about this timely subject are appreciated. I'm in Pittsburgh and we dodged the Sandy bullet this time, but we've had outages before lasting 2-3 days. Including a power grid failure a few years back that shut the gas stations too.

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Re: Another Generator Question

Post by SteveB3005 » Sun Nov 04, 2012 9:13 am

It's all about the freezer, once you have heat covered. If heat is not an issue running an hour every four or less can be adequate. Run the generator only long enough to keep the food frozen and make ice for the food in chest coolers. While the unit is running charge those phones and laptops. Generator energy is too precious to use for cooking all the time, use the propane grill and consume all perishables first.

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Re: Another Generator Question

Post by JW-Retired » Sun Nov 04, 2012 9:24 am

Leesbro63 wrote:The current SANDY problems got me thinking. Is there an optimal way to minimize gasoline usage in a home generator? I would guess that frozen and refrigerated foods would be at the heart of the question. Such as 3 hours on, 4-5 hours off? I can also run my natural gas furnace with my electric generator (electric needed for the motor). I am thinking that if you cranked the heat up for a few hours then shut everything down to conserve gasoline, that would work too. House might get to 80 degrees then fall to 60 but would be more efficient on the gasoline.

Any thoughts about this timely subject are appreciated. I'm in Pittsburgh and we dodged the Sandy bullet this time, but we've had outages before lasting 2-3 days. Including a power grid failure a few years back that shut the gas stations too.
IMO the average power use would be about the same. Thermostats turn the fridge compressor and furnace fans on/off as needed to keep your set temperature. The power use is intermittent. If you force the house temp cycle from 60 to 80 and back (avg. 70) you are just taking over the control action from the thermostat. You will produce much longer heater on/off cycles but the average power use won't be much different from the many short ones the thermostat produces when set 70. Likewise with the fridge.
JW

ps: goggling around it seems the no-load fuel consumption of little generators is pretty big. You would save that if you turn it off.
Last edited by JW-Retired on Sun Nov 04, 2012 9:33 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Another Generator Question

Post by LadyGeek » Sun Nov 04, 2012 9:26 am

I can give you real-time answers, as I'm still without power and have been on a generator since Monday night. As you say, the primary consideration is keeping the fridge/freezers operating. What you are missing is the impact of outside temperature.

For rain events, like Hurricane Sandy, number one priority goes to the sump pumps. They have to stay 100% operational during the storm, and probably a few hours past that time until the pumps can safely be turned off. Once you get past that, then your concern goes to the fridge/freezers.

I'm running with a max night off-time of 8-10 hours, which is what I think the max time for a freezer to be without power.

On-time can be as little as an hour or 2 - until the fridge/freezer gets down to temperature and shuts off. During the day, I'm running about 2 hours on, 3 hours off. The timing depends on daily activity. Considering it's Sunday, we'll make an exception and keep the generator going to watch football. :) Also, power has been promised to be restored soon.

For snow events, you don't need to worry about the sump pumps. If the outside temperature is below freezing, you can put your freezer contents outside. Same for the fridge - find a good spot to keep food at 40 deg. BTW, have a thermometer available to monitor conditions.

For heating, my fireplace can heat the house on its own (with unused rooms closed off). We have plenty of firewood prepared, and have refilled the fire ring 3 times so far. My property is in a wooded area (I own it), supply is not a problem.

For cooking, we can fire up a grill using propane, charcoal, or wood (1 grill for propane, the other for charcoal / wood).

(BTW - I retitled your thread, thought it would help. Edit the Subject line in Post #1 if you want to change it; use the Edit button in the top right corner of the post.)
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Re: Another Generator Question [How to minimize gas consumpt

Post by pshonore » Sun Nov 04, 2012 9:41 am

I generally run mine (5K watts) for about 10 hrs per 24 hour day. 7-10, 1-4 , 6-10. That takes about 3-4 gallons of gas which is definately a consideration (both to cost and availability). Everyone's situation is different. We have a well and oil furnace that also heats our hot water. So no power means no water. We have a relatively new frig that has temp displays on the door. (only visible of course when power is on). I was somewhat disappointed to see that the freezer in the frig went from 0 degrees at 10 pm to 28 degrees atr 7 am. It was 1/3 empty before the storm and I probably should have tried to fill it with more (ice, water jugs, etc). Main compartment went from 40 to 48 during overnight.

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Re: Another Generator Question [How to minimize gas consumpt

Post by Leesbro63 » Sun Nov 04, 2012 10:17 am

Thanks all. Your answers were VERY useful. I will mentally file this info away for potential future use.

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Re: Another Generator Question [How to minimize gas consumpt

Post by livesoft » Sun Nov 04, 2012 10:22 am

One way to minimize use is to not have food that needs to be kept cold unless you keep it outside in the winter time. When we lived in Europe, we kept some things on our balcony in the winter since the fridge was so small. In reality, very little food needs refrigeration. For us, it is mostly leftovers, but if one prepares only what they need, there will be few leftovers.

And a power failure is a good impetus to clean out the fridge and freezer.

For warmth, we treat a power failure like we were camping. And I've done quite a lot of snow camping.
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Re: Another Generator Question [How to minimize gas consumpt

Post by THY4373 » Sun Nov 04, 2012 10:34 am

Assuming you don't yet have a generator another way to conserve gas is to get a smaller one that will just run essentials. My 3500 watt Chinese Honda clone generator uses 5-6 gallons per 24 hour period. I normally keep 10-15 gallons on site for lawn mower and generator (and periodically refresh it by dumping old gas in car) but I keep five x five gallon containers on site + the generator hold four so I can have as much as 29 gallons stored. On the east coast most weather events are known in advance (hurricanes and ice storms) and I can then fill up all five containers + generator and have basically five days of full running. That so far should get me through the worst of it. That generator easily runs my essentials (I don't have a sump pump).

The other way to conserve gas is to get an inverter generator made by Kipor or Honda. Unlike regular gasoline generators that must spin at 3600 RPM all the time the inverter generators can vary their speed depending on load this makes the quieter and much more fuel efficient. However their output tends to be more limited and they are more expensive.

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Re: Another Generator Question [How to minimize gas consumpt

Post by TomatoTomahto » Sun Nov 04, 2012 1:11 pm

livesoft wrote:
And a power failure is a good impetus to clean out the fridge and freezer.
That's one of the few bright spots of the week. Our fridge and freezer are shiny and clean with only a few items in them.

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Re: Another Generator Question [How to minimize gas consumpt

Post by magellan » Sun Nov 04, 2012 3:02 pm

We've had several multi-day outages over the years and we usually do two generator runs a day, each lasting 3 hours give or take.

The first run starts right when we wake up so we can start warming the house, make coffee and breakfast, and take showers. After about 3 hours, the house is toasty warm even in February, and the fridge is nicely chilled down. The second generator run starts at 5pm or so and goes until 8 give or take. I usually schedule it so that most of the second generator run happens after dark. In the winter, this is especially easy, but in the summer I'll usually strattle it a little, starting no later than 7pm or so.

With this schedule, our 5500 watt generator consumes about 3-4 gallons a day. That stretches our 20 gallon fuel supply to 5 to 7 days. If things ever got dire, I'd figure out a way to tap into our vehicles' gas lines for the 25-30 gallons in them. I've never come close to having to do that though. Usually after a day or two, it's relatively easy to get more gas.

One thing that helps enormously with this reduced runtime schedule is having 3 power pack battery units. One has three ac outlets and a 28 Ah battery and can run a 100 watt load for around 3 hours. We use this mostly to power a large floor lamp with three 15 watt CFLs in it. It's nice to brightly light our hang out room to create some semblance of normalcy when the generator is off. The other two power packs each have 8-10 ah batteries and run our laptops and other misc electronic stuff.

Jim
Last edited by magellan on Sun Nov 04, 2012 8:55 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: Another Generator Question [How to minimize gas consumpt

Post by linuxuser » Sun Nov 04, 2012 3:44 pm

magellan wrote: We use this mostly to power a large floor lamp with three 15 watt CFLs in it. It's nice to brightly light our hang out room to create some semblance of normalcy when the generator is off.

Jim
You might want to look into the LED lights.
I saw some 2.5W at Walmart today, and some were even assembled in USA (LightsOfAmerica.com).
http://www.walmart.com/ip/Lights-of-Ame ... b/17693220

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Re: Another Generator Question [How to minimize gas consumpt

Post by johnny72 » Sun Nov 04, 2012 4:18 pm

I have a 3,250 (peak 4,000) watt gasoline generator. I ran it for 4 hours on, 4 hours off for the 21 hours we were without power last week.

Had the sump pump hooked up (though it rarely came on - our house is rock-solid about not getting water in the basement), one refrigerator and then the chargers for my notebook, phones, etc.

Used less than 3 gallons of gas in the 21 hours it was out.

Heat was taken care of by propane fireplaces that require no electricity. Water is public water so had no problem with that too. Although preparing for an extended outage, we filled up 5x5 gallon food-grade plastic jugs of water.

Absolutely couldn't believe it when the power came back on - was expecting a week without power based on how many people lost electricity.

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Re: Another Generator Question [How to minimize gas consumpt

Post by Leesbro63 » Sun Nov 04, 2012 6:43 pm

magellan wrote:We've had several multi-day outages over the years and we usually do two generator runs a day, each lasting 3 hours give or take.

The first run starts right when we wake up so we can start warming the house, make coffee and breakfast, and take showers. After about 3 hours, the house is toasty warm even in February, and the fridge is nicely chilled down. The second generator run starts at 5pm or so and goes until 8 give or take. I usually schedule it so that most of the second generator run happens after dark. In the winter, this is especially easy, but in the summer I'll usually strattle it a little, starting no later than 7am or so.

With this schedule, our 5500 watt generator consumes about 3-4 gallons a day. That stretches our 20 gallon fuel supply to 5 to 7 days. If things were really dire, I'd figure out a way to tap into our vehicles' gas lines for the 25-30 gallons in them. I've never come close to having to do that. Usually after a day or two, it's relatively easy to get more gas.

One thing that helps enormously with this reduced runtime schedule is having 3 power pack battery units. One has three ac outlets and a 28 Ah battery and can run a 100 watt load for around 3 hours. We use this mostly to power a large floor lamp with three 15 watt CFLs in it. It's nice to brightly light our hang out room to create some semblance of normalcy when the generator is off. The other two power packs each have 8-10 ah batteries and run our laptops and other misc electronic stuff.

Jim

I never have heard of an A/C battery. Is there a link to one?

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Re: Another Generator Question [How to minimize gas consumpt

Post by livesoft » Sun Nov 04, 2012 6:47 pm

^ I think that's another term for UPS: uninterruptible power supply.
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Re: Another Generator Question [How to minimize gas consumpt

Post by magellan » Sun Nov 04, 2012 8:51 pm

Leesbro63 wrote:I never have heard of an A/C battery. Is there a link to one?
It's actually a 12 volt DC battery with an inverter attached.

This is the one I have. It was expensive (~$180-200), but I've had it for over 5 years and it still holds a charge very well. The manual says the battery isn't replaceable, but based on some googling, similar to many UPS units, when the battery dies I can order a replacement. The replacement for this one runs about $90 shipped.

Jim

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Re: Another Generator Question [How to minimize gas consumpt

Post by magellan » Sun Nov 04, 2012 9:29 pm

linuxuser wrote:
magellan wrote: We use this mostly to power a large floor lamp with three 15 watt CFLs in it. It's nice to brightly light our hang out room to create some semblance of normalcy when the generator is off.

Jim
You might want to look into the LED lights.
I saw some 2.5W at Walmart today, and some were even assembled in USA (LightsOfAmerica.com).
LED lights seem like they'd be perfect for this application, but they cost so much to buy per lumen of output, it's actually much cheaper to just use CFLs and upsize the battery. For example, that 2.5 watt LED puts out 135 lumens and costs $8-$9. You'd need 4-5 of them (say 10-12 watts) to match the light output of a 15 watt CFL.

Jim

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Re: Another Generator Question [How to minimize gas consumpt

Post by Optimistic » Mon Nov 05, 2012 9:26 am

Leesbro63 wrote:The current SANDY problems got me thinking. Is there an optimal way to minimize gasoline usage in a home generator? I would guess that frozen and refrigerated foods would be at the heart of the question. Such as 3 hours on, 4-5 hours off? I can also run my natural gas furnace with my electric generator (electric needed for the motor). I am thinking that if you cranked the heat up for a few hours then shut everything down to conserve gasoline, that would work too. House might get to 80 degrees then fall to 60 but would be more efficient on the gasoline.

Any thoughts about this timely subject are appreciated. I'm in Pittsburgh and we dodged the Sandy bullet this time, but we've had outages before lasting 2-3 days. Including a power grid failure a few years back that shut the gas stations too.
You mentioned you have natural gas. Have you considered a natural gas generator? That would give you a seemingly unlimited supply of fuel. You can also buy a kit to convert your existing generator to use natural gas.

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Re: Another Generator Question [How to minimize gas consumpt

Post by Leesbro63 » Mon Nov 05, 2012 9:32 am

Yes. And I might indeed get one. But at this point it it's not clear if we are going to stay in this house for more than a few years. And my current set up works well. It's rare that power outages are so wide around here that gasoline isn't available somewhere not too far away. If we move, however, I probably will do a nat gas generator at that time.

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Re: Another Generator Question [How to minimize gas consumpt

Post by THY4373 » Mon Nov 05, 2012 11:49 am

Leesbro63 wrote:Yes. And I might indeed get one. But at this point it it's not clear if we are going to stay in this house for more than a few years. And my current set up works well. It's rare that power outages are so wide around here that gasoline isn't available somewhere not too far away. If we move, however, I probably will do a nat gas generator at that time.
You can actually convert a portable gasoline generator to natural gas and put a natural gas hook up out by your patio/deck for both a grill and your generator. Then if you move you can take the generator with you. Advantage of NG is you don't have to worry about the gas going bad and it is essentially unlimited (except perhaps in an earthquake situation). That said there is less energy per unit of NG so you have to de-rate the generators output which, in part, is what has stopped me doing this (along with the cost).

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Re: Another Generator Question [How to minimize gas consumpt

Post by whomever » Mon Nov 05, 2012 7:12 pm

Not a help for an existing generator, but many inverter generators are much more fuel efficient than conventional ones, especially for intermittent loads.

A conventional generator has to turn 3600 RPM whether loaded or not, to maintain 60Hz output. The inverter ones can throttle way back for low loads. For example, we run a fridge and gas furnace blower for a couple of quarts a day with ours.

I don't really care about the cost of gas when the power is out, but at a couple of quarts a day the 3 gallon gas can we keep for the mower lasts a long time; not having to keep multiple 5 gallon cans of fresh gas around is a big win.

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Re: Another Generator Question [How to minimize gas consumpt

Post by Leesbro63 » Mon Nov 05, 2012 9:49 pm

THY4373 wrote:
Leesbro63 wrote:Yes. And I might indeed get one. But at this point it it's not clear if we are going to stay in this house for more than a few years. And my current set up works well. It's rare that power outages are so wide around here that gasoline isn't available somewhere not too far away. If we move, however, I probably will do a nat gas generator at that time.
You can actually convert a portable gasoline generator to natural gas and put a natural gas hook up out by your patio/deck for both a grill and your generator. Then if you move you can take the generator with you. Advantage of NG is you don't have to worry about the gas going bad and it is essentially unlimited (except perhaps in an earthquake situation). That said there is less energy per unit of NG so you have to de-rate the generators output which, in part, is what has stopped me doing this (along with the cost).
Yeah. Now you are talking. How can I convert my gasoline generator to natgas?

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Re: Another Generator Question [How to minimize gas consumpt

Post by THY4373 » Mon Nov 05, 2012 10:07 pm

Leesbro63 wrote:
Yeah. Now you are talking. How can I convert my gasoline generator to natgas?
There are a number of places out there that sell conversion kits. This seems to be the main one: http://www.propane-generators.com/a-c_kit_acc.htm. Despite their name they sell NG as well as propane conversion kits.

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Re: Another Generator Question [How to minimize gas consumpt

Post by Leesbro63 » Mon Nov 05, 2012 10:22 pm

Thanks. I will look into this

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Re: Another Generator Question [How to minimize gas consumpt

Post by Padlin » Tue Nov 06, 2012 8:04 pm

My litle Honda 2000i runs my furnace and either the freezer or the fridge for 11 hours on 1 gallon. They also make an expender tank that will let you run a good deal longer. If you can make do with minimul power you can save gas.
Regards | Bob

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Re: Another Generator Question [How to minimize gas consumpt

Post by THY4373 » Wed Nov 07, 2012 8:44 am

Padlin wrote:My litle Honda 2000i runs my furnace and either the freezer or the fridge for 11 hours on 1 gallon. They also make an expender tank that will let you run a good deal longer. If you can make do with minimul power you can save gas.

Yeah that is an inverter generator they are much more fuel efficient at low and intermittent loads than the more common and cheaper gensets. Inverter generators generate DC and then use electronics to make AC this allows them to vary the motor speed saving a lot of gas unless you are running the max load (which I doubt most folks do most of the time). Standard gasoline portable generators have to maintain 3600 RPM at all loads and so use a lot more gas even if you are drawing no or only a little power. The issue of course is that inverter generators are quite a bit more expensive. So you have to weigh the hassle of purchasing fuel vs. a significantly higher up front cost. If I was using my generator more than say every 3-4 years for an outage I'd probably consider an inverter genset. Also their output is cleaner than the standard gensets.

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Re: Another Generator Question [How to minimize gas consumpt

Post by NateW » Wed Nov 07, 2012 11:55 am

Yes, keeping the refrigerator and freezer cold is top priority. I have the standard frost-free refrigerator/freezer combo and a 9 cubic upright manual defrost freezer. When I prepared for Sandy, I decided I would use generator sparingly. To do this I made copious amounts of ice ahead of time (beginning about three days before), about 80 pounds by filling with tap water empty soda cans and spring water bottles with caps and placing them in the freezer part of the refrigerator and in the upright freezer. I packed both freezers full with the ice cans and bottlers, along with the normal food. I mean completely full as I could. I then got 2-inch thick foam building insulation pannels (from Home Depot) and cut them to fit the outsides of the 9-foor cubic freezer. I was going to double the insulation thickness on the freezer. Don't install them until the power fails, because the condenser coils are on the outside, and must be uncovered to dissipate heat when the freezer is running. Duct tape the pannels on after the power fails and don't open the freezer. About a day before Sandy hit, I turned the temperature control to "Max Cold" in the upright freezer.

I also had a good size ice chest (about an 80 quart) and I covered it with the 2-inch insulation pannels, cut to fit, too to conserve ice. The plan was to put the best of the food from the refrigerator in the ice chest (discard the rest) and use the ice chest like one would a refrigerator and use the frozen food out of the refrigerator's freezer as long as it was frozen and to replinish the ice in the ice chest from the refrigerator's freezer. I planned to run the generator as needed. Its a 5.5 kw/hr. el cheapo chineese knock-off I bought this year for about $550, uses a lot of gas and is noisy as all, but works well.

Heat was not an issue because I have a 30,000 BTU/hr. natural gas log set (direct vent) that does not require electricity to operate and puts out lots of heat. The hot water heater is gas. There again, no problem, works without electricity. I do have an electric stove, so I bought a Colman two-burner propane camp stove and have a propane grill out back.

Also have the LED flashlights and batteries and candles.

Fortunately for me, we did not loose power, even with the over 60 MPH gusts experienced, so I did not get to put all of the above to use (live in Northern Virginia), but I was ready. I do really feel bad for the people north of me, though.

--Nate

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Re: Another Generator Question [How to minimize gas consumpt

Post by Epsilon Delta » Wed Nov 07, 2012 12:42 pm

NateW wrote:To do this I made copious amounts of ice ahead of time (beginning about three days before), about 80 pounds by filling with tap water empty soda cans and spring water bottles with caps and placing them in the freezer part of the refrigerator and in the upright freezer.
You can do a little better by using salt water ice. This keeps the freezer colder and avoids the food damage that occurs as the temperature approaches 32F. This does mean you can't use it as an emergency water supply, so store your potable water elsewhere.

Add a couple of cups of rock salt to each 2 liter soda bottle. Make sure they actually freeze, if they don't either turn down the temperature or use less salt. Saturate salt solution freezes at about 0F. It also melts at 0F which keeps the freezer below freezing until its all melted.

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Re: Another Generator Question [How to minimize gas consumpt

Post by Padlin » Wed Nov 07, 2012 3:46 pm

THY4373 wrote:
Padlin wrote:My litle Honda 2000i runs my furnace and either the freezer or the fridge for 11 hours on 1 gallon. They also make an expender tank that will let you run a good deal longer. If you can make do with minimul power you can save gas.

Yeah that is an inverter generator they are much more fuel efficient at low and intermittent loads than the more common and cheaper gensets. Inverter generators generate DC and then use electronics to make AC this allows them to vary the motor speed saving a lot of gas unless you are running the max load (which I doubt most folks do most of the time). Standard gasoline portable generators have to maintain 3600 RPM at all loads and so use a lot more gas even if you are drawing no or only a little power. The issue of course is that inverter generators are quite a bit more expensive. So you have to weigh the hassle of purchasing fuel vs. a significantly higher up front cost. If I was using my generator more than say every 3-4 years for an outage I'd probably consider an inverter genset. Also their output is cleaner than the standard gensets.
Mine only kicks into high gear when a appliance first comes on, for maybe 5 seconds then it throttles down to idle. Microwaves and hair driers keep it at full bore. Bought it for the quiet operation as it really for charging the RV, use it 3 or 4 times a year. For strictly home use a clean noisy unit would do, during outages the neighborhood sounds like a biplane factory anyway. Clean being the important part if you want to run anything with computer circuits in it, like many furnaces.
Regards | Bob

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Re: Another Generator Question [How to minimize gas consumpt

Post by CountryBoy » Wed Nov 07, 2012 4:43 pm

I have been on generator since Oct. 30 with a 8 Kw Generac. Most people don't read the manual but I do. It says lots of nec. stuff but 2 esp. important things:

1-Can not be run in rain.......so keep it covered and away from the garage.

2-Mine is battery run and the manual says that running it does not charge it. So it must be charged with a trickle charger when you get the electricity back. It also says to not charge it while it is running.

My town..Somers..in Westchester NY was supposedly the hardest hit in the county (per CBS news)...it will take at least 2 more days before everyone is back..

Right now it is snowing and winds of up to 50 mph are predicted for the NorEaster that is coming in...

enjoy the journey,

barlow

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