Should I purchase a whole house generator?

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miamivice
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Should I purchase a whole house generator?

Post by miamivice »

We love power at our house around 5 times per year. It's annoying. If it happens in the early morning, I oversleep and don't get to work on time. Sometimes the power is out for 12 hours and then things start to go bad in the fridges. We're not sure why power is not more reliable (we are in a suburban community with all underground power) but it's life. Sometimes power goes out for days if we have a storm.

So, I am thinking about purchasing a whole house generator. OK, we don't really need one. I sort of just want one. I just called one place and professional turnkey installation is around $11,000 plus tax. Ouch! However I have found big whole house generators on Craigslist etc for not much money, and am contemplating DIY installation.

Questions:

1. How much value, if any, does a whole house generator add to one's house?

2. Beyond the generator, what are the expenses for a DIY installation? I assume gas plumbing (we have natural gas), wiring, transfer switch, and pad.

3. Has anyone here done a DIY installation of a generator? How did it go? Pitfalls?

4. Again, can I make this project pencil out financially? I clearly cannot make professional installation pencil out so looking for other options to consider.

5. One option is the 20kw generator from Costco. Out of stock at the moment but runs about $4400 plus installation. $4400 isn't too bad if I could DIY the installation.
brad.clarkston
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Re: Should I purchase a whole house generator?

Post by brad.clarkston »

We have a external propane whole house generator and while I can do most electrical/water work I didn't do it myself. You'll also need a cut over switch to go from city grid to generator and back which I also didn't want to do.

We get ice storms fairly often here in KC, MO. We started out with a $5k generator just for the fridge/freezer but that doesn't cut it when it's below zero without power for a few days. I think all together the bigger unit was about $12k with the buried propane tank and well worth it over the last 15 years.

It won't increase the house price as we are at the top end of our area anyway but the three agents we talked to this year says the house will sell in a day or two probably for cash (more things than just the generator - siding/windows/floors/etc).
Ron
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Re: Should I purchase a whole house generator?

Post by Ron »

Use the search box (top right) and search for "backup gen". You will get about a dozen threads on the subject, from this forum.

- Ron
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ResearchMed
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Re: Should I purchase a whole house generator?

Post by ResearchMed »

miamivice wrote: Wed Aug 05, 2020 5:23 pm We love power at our house around 5 times per year. It's annoying. If it happens in the early morning, I oversleep and don't get to work on time. Sometimes the power is out for 12 hours and then things start to go bad in the fridges. We're not sure why power is not more reliable (we are in a suburban community with all underground power) but it's life. Sometimes power goes out for days if we have a storm.

So, I am thinking about purchasing a whole house generator. OK, we don't really need one. I sort of just want one. I just called one place and professional turnkey installation is around $11,000 plus tax. Ouch! However I have found big whole house generators on Craigslist etc for not much money, and am contemplating DIY installation.

Questions:

1. How much value, if any, does a whole house generator add to one's house?

2. Beyond the generator, what are the expenses for a DIY installation? I assume gas plumbing (we have natural gas), wiring, transfer switch, and pad.

3. Has anyone here done a DIY installation of a generator? How did it go? Pitfalls?

4. Again, can I make this project pencil out financially? I clearly cannot make professional installation pencil out so looking for other options to consider.

5. One option is the 20kw generator from Costco. Out of stock at the moment but runs about $4400 plus installation. $4400 isn't too bad if I could DIY the installation.
We love power at our house all the time (more than 5 times a year) :wink:
Moving right along --

We did not make our nat gas generator professional installation "pencil out"; it was for our convenience... our significant convenience!
That is not something that we would feel at all comfortable doing, and at our ages now, we probably couldn't do it all anyway (lifting heavy stuff, etc.). But "electrical" or "natural gas" - and especially nat gas? We call the pros.
And we didn't take into consideration any "added value" to our house, although we sort of assume that it would have some limited value. (A buyer could always add that to a house if they found a house they liked but it didn't have a generator. It's not a major overhaul of the entire house.)

We have it set up for automatic switching if the power is lost (and then back to regular power once that is restored). So we don't need to be home, and we don't need to worry about our housesitter managing it if she is there instead of us.

We have AC, but left that "off", given it would have significantly affected the power, and required a bigger generator.
We didn't have the entire house wired, just key circuits: lights for each set of stairs/hallways; lights for the kitchen; the main fridge/freezer; the thermostats and starters for both furnaces/boilers; the WiFi/etc.; a few sockets around the house; and, importantly, the sump pump. (A lot of good that sump pump would do in a hurricane/flooding if the power was out and the sump pump became just "an interesting fixture".)

Whenever the pandemic ends, we'll have the electrician back, to make some changes that we wish we had done, which was to have more wired, but an arrangement where some circuits are shed, in designated order, if there is not enough power.
We'll check to see if the AC could be added given that there are other circuits not included (?).
We also had added a tankless water heater, and I totally forgot to have that wired in. My bad :annoyed

We are *VERY* happy we got it.
Whenever the power goes out, which isn't frequent, but it's also often totally unpredictable (not just during storms), we just smile at each other, move a few plugs into different sockets, and "carry on".
And make kind comments "to" the generator :wink:

We have it wired so that it texts us a message when it self tests, gives us the status, and would let us know about any problems. That's been very nice when we aren't home.
Thus far, no problems!

Our only regret is that we didn't have it installed as soon as we moved in. Back then, there were neighborhood power problems, and we'd occasionally lose power for more than a day.

RM
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iamlucky13
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Re: Should I purchase a whole house generator?

Post by iamlucky13 »

For the stated problems you are trying to solve, the most cost effective thing to do would probably be to use an alarm clock that can run on batteries (which could be a phone you already have) and a small portable generator. Actually, you should have an alarm clock that can run on batteries anyways, because none of your options guarantee power won't blink out long enough for the clock to lose its settings.

A 2000W inverter generator should be plenty to run a modern refrigerator with minimal noise compared to less expensive portable generators. These can be had for $500-1000 (The base model Champion on sale price at the low end, and a Honda at the high end). Since your refrigerator plug is almost certainly difficult to reach to plug into an extension cord, it is also advisable to have a transfer switch installed for that circuit, and maybe one or two others if you want to keep a few lights and maybe internet and a TV functional. This would probably be another $500-1000. If you do more than one circuit, you do have to be careful to manage your use to avoid overloading the generator, or might consider a medium-sized portable generator.

You would need to spend 15 minutes or so after each use draining the fuel from the tank and carburetor and oiling the cylinder for long term storage.

A whole house generator also requires periodic maintenance to keep in good standby condition. I think the question comes down to how much you're willing to spend to maintain a near normal lifestyle when the power is out, versus address a couple of the most critical needs.

If you've ever considered solar, while a proper battery system to serve the equivalent function of a whole house generator is not cost-competitive, there are some solar inverters that can operate during power outages with limited capacity but no batteries, while the sun is shining. SMA's Secure Power Supply is the example I know of. Depending on the inverter (and of course, the amount of sunlight available at any given instant), it can provide up to 2000W.
Mr. Rumples
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Re: Should I purchase a whole house generator?

Post by Mr. Rumples »

One thing to find out, if you have wires above ground, is if they plan on burying them and when. Finding out is like pulling teeth, but it might help make a decision. I live in VA and Dominion wasn't very helpful until I called the SCC and then they called me right away. They said their criteria is the frequency of outages. Perhaps the same is true where you live.
tomd37
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Re: Should I purchase a whole house generator?

Post by tomd37 »

Having just gone through the purchase and installation of a 22 KwH Generac natural gas fired whole house generator with a transfer switch, my comments would be don't even consider a self-installation nor a purchase from a local big-box store. Also figure on the professional installation cost being the same as the cost of the equipment.

Are you ready to handle the movement of a generator weighing 625 pounds and a concrete pad weighing 195 pounds? Are you ready to handle coordinating the requirements for your electric and gas company coming to your site at the same time to properly cut both supplies of those items and get them inspected and back online at the proper time? How about getting all the local required permits? How about installing pressure reducing valves on all your other gas run equipment? Do you have the proper size gas meter to handle the new high-pressure generator? Do you know of a local "fully qualified installer" who has actually done a good number of such installations? Think of all the dangers involved and the risks you take.

We were without power for 68 hours as a result of a huge storm that went through the area just prior to the installation of our generator. Too bad we did not have it then, but we do now. :D Just to add, our generator was installed in just six hours from drive up to drive away!
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go_mets
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Re: Should I purchase a whole house generator?

Post by go_mets »

iamlucky13 wrote: Wed Aug 05, 2020 6:02 pm A 2000W inverter generator should be plenty to run a modern refrigerator with minimal noise compared to less expensive portable generators. These can be had for $500-1000 (The base model Champion on sale price at the low end, and a Honda at the high end).
We lost power for about 20 hours because of Isias.
I saw this inverter sold at Harbor Freight.
Seems to get good reviews.
https://www.harborfreight.com/2000-watt ... 63429.html
Your thoughts?

There are larger capacity ones 3000/6000 and 5000/10000 ones as well.
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cashboy
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Re: Should I purchase a whole house generator?

Post by cashboy »

i faced the same question some years back.

i considered:
number of outages per year,
duration of the outages,
what i 'needed' to have powered (ex: water heater; heater; lights - not whole house AC or clothes dryer),
and total cost - initial and ongoing.

based on my situation
i went with a portable gasoline generator for under $1,000,
and had an electriciation do the work so i could switch house power to and from the generator (by isolating the house from the grid, and adding an outside receptacle for the generator to plug into) for about $1,000. in hind sight i could have done the electrical work myself for about 1/2 the price after seeing what the electrician did and checking youtube videos, but i have no regrets.

so, total cost was $2,000.

i have used it several times.

just another option to consider.
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Mrvtmn
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Re: Should I purchase a whole house generator?

Post by Mrvtmn »

We purchased one this year and had to upgrade our gas meter which was $400. Also there are yearly maintenance costs of around $300 a year to consider.

We were on vacation a few months ago and I received an alert on my phone that the power was out and the generator was running. It was only out for a few hours but it was nice knowing the sump pump in our basement was running. We have a battery backup but this makes me feel much better.

I still think of this as a luxury item, though.
tomd37
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Re: Should I purchase a whole house generator?

Post by tomd37 »

Mrvtmn - We too had to change out our natural gas meter, but Piedmont Natural Gas covers that as part of their service. My neighbor has to change out his also and he not only got a generator, but also subsequently installed a gas-fired instant hot water heater. Those two along with his other natural gas appliances will not operate in the winter with all that possible demand. Once the meter is changed out he will be okay he says.
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Re: Should I purchase a whole house generator?

Post by 000 »

miamivice wrote: Wed Aug 05, 2020 5:23 pm We love power at our house around 5 times per year. It's annoying. If it happens in the early morning, I oversleep and don't get to work on time.
Consider a battery-powered alarm clock.
miamivice wrote: Wed Aug 05, 2020 5:23 pm Sometimes the power is out for 12 hours and then things start to go bad in the fridges.
I think a standalone unit will be much, much cheaper than whole house. And more portable. And easier to service.

Just my thoughts. I guess it depends on how much 11k is to you.
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StevieG72
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Re: Should I purchase a whole house generator?

Post by StevieG72 »

I personally think the expense outweighs the benefit. In addition to the initial install, plan on spending money for regular maintenance. If you do not stay on top of testing the unit and maintenance, it will fail you.
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neilpilot
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Re: Should I purchase a whole house generator?

Post by neilpilot »

go_mets wrote: Wed Aug 05, 2020 7:18 pm
iamlucky13 wrote: Wed Aug 05, 2020 6:02 pm A 2000W inverter generator should be plenty to run a modern refrigerator with minimal noise compared to less expensive portable generators. These can be had for $500-1000 (The base model Champion on sale price at the low end, and a Honda at the high end).
We lost power for about 20 hours because of Isias.
I saw this inverter sold at Harbor Freight.
Seems to get good reviews.
https://www.harborfreight.com/2000-watt ... 63429.html
Your thoughts?

There are larger capacity ones 3000/6000 and 5000/10000 ones as well.
You understand that the HF unit is simply an inverter, and not a generator. It's designed to provide temporary and limited power from your car's charging system. Not appropriate in the context of this thread.
go_mets
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Re: Should I purchase a whole house generator?

Post by go_mets »

neilpilot wrote: Wed Aug 05, 2020 8:12 pm
go_mets wrote: Wed Aug 05, 2020 7:18 pm
iamlucky13 wrote: Wed Aug 05, 2020 6:02 pm A 2000W inverter generator should be plenty to run a modern refrigerator with minimal noise compared to less expensive portable generators. These can be had for $500-1000 (The base model Champion on sale price at the low end, and a Honda at the high end).
We lost power for about 20 hours because of Isias.
I saw this inverter sold at Harbor Freight.
Seems to get good reviews.
https://www.harborfreight.com/2000-watt ... 63429.html
Your thoughts?

There are larger capacity ones 3000/6000 and 5000/10000 ones as well.
You understand that the HF unit is simply an inverter, and not a generator. It's designed to provide temporary and limited power from your car's charging system. Not appropriate in the context of this thread.
Just wondering if iamlucky13 has an experience with such equipment.
I just need something to run the refrigerator every few hours so that the items inside don't spoil.


.
lazydavid
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Re: Should I purchase a whole house generator?

Post by lazydavid »

If you can afford it, a true standby is definitely the way to go. That said, we only lose power about twice per year, and our longest outage EVER was about 6 hours, so here’s what we did:

Bought a 12kw peak/10k continuous portable generator from Sam’s for like $600, then built a custom generator enclosure out of a horizontal shed, and had an electrician install a power inlet on the side of the house. Added an interlock myself. All-in cost for everything was well under $2k. When the power goes out, I start the generator, run the extension cable to the inlet, and cut the breakers over. It’s not a big fan of motors (ceiling fans and the AC condenser being the biggest culprit), but otherwise does just fine. We’ve gone almost an entire work day with my wife and I both WFH running on the generator without issue.

We’ve considered going to a full standby, but our situation doesn’t warrant it. Friends we know who lose power for 2+ days at least once a year absolutely have them, and I wouldn’t suggest a solution like ours.
iamlucky13
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Re: Should I purchase a whole house generator?

Post by iamlucky13 »

go_mets wrote: Wed Aug 05, 2020 7:18 pm
iamlucky13 wrote: Wed Aug 05, 2020 6:02 pm A 2000W inverter generator should be plenty to run a modern refrigerator with minimal noise compared to less expensive portable generators. These can be had for $500-1000 (The base model Champion on sale price at the low end, and a Honda at the high end).
We lost power for about 20 hours because of Isias.
I saw this inverter sold at Harbor Freight.
Seems to get good reviews.
https://www.harborfreight.com/2000-watt ... 63429.html
Your thoughts?

There are larger capacity ones 3000/6000 and 5000/10000 ones as well.
To clarify, an inverter is a type of electrical device (they convert DC power to AC). An inverter generator includes an inverter as one of its parts, but what you linked to is only an inverter, and a type intended to be used with batteries.

At full load, that inverter would drain a large car battery in less than 30 minutes. Such a setup might be able to run a refrigerator for 4 hours or so. It's not what I would recommend for a power outage. A good inverter generator could run a fridge for up to 8 hours per gallon of gas.

Harbor Freight does have a line of inverter generators, but they're nearly as expensive as the Champion brand. I don't know if they're of comparable quality, but I've heard Champion quality is mixed, so perhaps. Honda is top of the line, but pricey.

Here's the Harbor Freight model:
https://www.harborfreight.com/engines-g ... 62523.html
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Re: Should I purchase a whole house generator?

Post by Vanguard Fan 1367 »

We lost power for a week or so during Irma. The whole house generator was great. We only have a 250 gallon propane tank. Folks recommend at least 500 gallons. We also had a propane company that only would come out and fill the tank if we were less than 20 percent full. So when the hurricane hit we had half a tank. We have since switched to a company that comes out every couple of months to fill the tank.

We ran out of propane after 2 days. In the future I will limit the running of the generator to make it last longer after a hurricane or other extended power failure.

I would consider getting it professionally installed. It sounds like a potential challenge to do it yourself.
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Quercus Palustris
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Re: Should I purchase a whole house generator?

Post by Quercus Palustris »

Our next door neighbor has a whole house natural gas Generac, with automatic switch over. It will run the AC and I think heat pump, as well as lights etc. One point against DIY - he mentioned that in order to fuel the generator and their gas appliances, their gas line needed to be upsized. All said, needed the yard and part of the street torn up, permits from county, etc.

That said we're glad they have it, when we had a long outage they let us run an extension cord over the fence to power our mini-fridge. :sharebeer
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Re: Should I purchase a whole house generator?

Post by tomd37 »

Fan 1367
Our daughter lives in Wilmington, NC and is subject to severe storms every year. They have propane gas and the increase in tank size needed and propane consumption made them cease consideration of a Generac system. They decided to stay with the portable generator they have used for years, even with its limitations. They spent the last two days cleaning up from the hurricane that just passed through on Monday.
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Re: Should I purchase a whole house generator?

Post by 000 »

Quercus Palustris wrote: Wed Aug 05, 2020 9:07 pm Our next door neighbor has a whole house natural gas Generac, with automatic switch over. It will run the AC and I think heat pump, as well as lights etc. One point against DIY - he mentioned that in order to fuel the generator and their gas appliances, their gas line needed to be upsized. All said, needed the yard and part of the street torn up, permits from county, etc.
I understand this to mean the generator pulls from an external natural gas line, not his own tanks. Is that correct?
mkc
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Re: Should I purchase a whole house generator?

Post by mkc »

We have had both portable/limited circuit and whole house standby.

It depends on your area - how frequent the power outages are, how long they last, what your climate is (do you need to keep pipes from freezing?)

We kept a house "serviceable" and the food safe for a week using a small portable generator after an ice storm in Texas. It required having gasoline and an extension cord. We would alternate what we powered off it - fridge for several hours, well pump as needed, blower fireplace as needed to keep the pipes from freezing.

Right now, my brother is running his house off a limited circuit portable generator with a transfer switch set up (he's on the east coast and likely without power until the weekend). He can power lights, fridge, freezers, most outlets, his well pump, sump pump. He cannot run his oven. He doesn't have power outages all that often, and they usually are less than 24 hours long. A setup like his is reasonably affordable and just requires an electrician properly set up a dummy-proof transfer switch (manual), gasoline, and maintaining the generator (run it under load periodically, keep the fuel fresh, maintain the oil and filters).

We now live in an area with frequent power outages, sometimes lasting over 24 hours. All the other homes in our area have standby generators. We debated it (the cost is not insignificant, and as @tomd37 covers, it is not something we would consider trying to self-install for exactly the reasons he outlines. Permits, electrical utility, gas utility, gas plumbing, concrete pad, weight of unit.) One week after our genset was commissioned (brought on line) this past February, we had a 38 hour long power outage. Our unit is natural gas-fueled, and can power our entire home. We have since had another 10 hour long outage.

While a generator doesn't add value to a home, per se, around here it's typically expected for a home to have one.
Last edited by mkc on Wed Aug 05, 2020 9:22 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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ResearchMed
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Re: Should I purchase a whole house generator?

Post by ResearchMed »

000 wrote: Wed Aug 05, 2020 9:11 pm
Quercus Palustris wrote: Wed Aug 05, 2020 9:07 pm Our next door neighbor has a whole house natural gas Generac, with automatic switch over. It will run the AC and I think heat pump, as well as lights etc. One point against DIY - he mentioned that in order to fuel the generator and their gas appliances, their gas line needed to be upsized. All said, needed the yard and part of the street torn up, permits from county, etc.
I understand this to mean the generator pulls from an external natural gas line, not his own tanks. Is that correct?
That is what ours does.

I think that is a main feature of a "natural gas" generator, vs., say, propane or gasoline/etc.

But our main line didn't need to be changed at all... just a smaller diameter pipe that goes out through a basement window, and the generator sits on a cement pad right there. Well, slightly away from the house.
We had a row of some small boxwoods put along the "outside" edge of the generator, for aesthetics. But it is still obvious what it is. And if you are standing there, it does make noise when it is running, which also makes it hard to miss. But we don't mind that at all, given the convenience.

RM
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Re: Should I purchase a whole house generator?

Post by mathwhiz »

We live in a rural/exurb area on acreage. Power grid is very shaky to the point we lose power at least once a month for an hour to up to 12 hours for any old garden variety storm or cold front coming in. We also live in a hurricane prone part of the country (Florida). For us a standby propane generator is a total no brainer. Every time we get an outage, we smile. Also, we are on well. No power is no water. Can't cook. Can't bathe. Can't flush the toilets. We lost power for 5 days during Hurricane Irma and I was peeing and pooping in the woods. Yeah, never again. Best purchase I ever made.
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Re: Should I purchase a whole house generator?

Post by Carguy85 »

I think our electrician made about $1000/hour to install our 20kw Kohler gen.... (took about 3 hours)...was it worth it? 1000% yes!!! Just remember an ER visit is upwards of $10k if you just go in for a hang nail... I’m a diy kinda guy and even took on the job of wiring up my shop...absolutely no way would I think about putting in a standby gen though which involves live wires from the street. The gen kicks on automatically and powers the whole house...extremely nice to go on about our biz when the power goes out and not have to worry about powering sumps if it’s rainy season or spoiling food. I remember getting in from the garage late one night covered in grease/dirt and as I was walking down the hall to take a nice hot shower the power went out. I smiled and a few seconds later carried on about my business.
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Quercus Palustris
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Re: Should I purchase a whole house generator?

Post by Quercus Palustris »

000 wrote: Wed Aug 05, 2020 9:11 pm
Quercus Palustris wrote: Wed Aug 05, 2020 9:07 pm Our next door neighbor has a whole house natural gas Generac, with automatic switch over. It will run the AC and I think heat pump, as well as lights etc. One point against DIY - he mentioned that in order to fuel the generator and their gas appliances, their gas line needed to be upsized. All said, needed the yard and part of the street torn up, permits from county, etc.
I understand this to mean the generator pulls from an external natural gas line, not his own tanks. Is that correct?
Yeah, city gas. We're in the northern VA suburbs. Quite a lot of houses here have them. Not sure if we're prone to many outages (lots of trees...), the neighbor mentioned that after snowmageddon there were some state rebates on the generators. Apparently it was a good deal... until the gas line had to be replaced.
000
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Re: Should I purchase a whole house generator?

Post by 000 »

ResearchMed wrote: Wed Aug 05, 2020 9:22 pm
000 wrote: Wed Aug 05, 2020 9:11 pm
Quercus Palustris wrote: Wed Aug 05, 2020 9:07 pm Our next door neighbor has a whole house natural gas Generac, with automatic switch over. It will run the AC and I think heat pump, as well as lights etc. One point against DIY - he mentioned that in order to fuel the generator and their gas appliances, their gas line needed to be upsized. All said, needed the yard and part of the street torn up, permits from county, etc.
I understand this to mean the generator pulls from an external natural gas line, not his own tanks. Is that correct?
That is what ours does.

I think that is a main feature of a "natural gas" generator, vs., say, propane or gasoline/etc.

But our main line didn't need to be changed at all... just a smaller diameter pipe that goes out through a basement window, and the generator sits on a cement pad right there. Well, slightly away from the house.
We had a row of some small boxwoods put along the "outside" edge of the generator, for aesthetics. But it is still obvious what it is. And if you are standing there, it does make noise when it is running, which also makes it hard to miss. But we don't mind that at all, given the convenience.

RM
Quercus Palustris wrote: Wed Aug 05, 2020 9:26 pm
000 wrote: Wed Aug 05, 2020 9:11 pm
Quercus Palustris wrote: Wed Aug 05, 2020 9:07 pm Our next door neighbor has a whole house natural gas Generac, with automatic switch over. It will run the AC and I think heat pump, as well as lights etc. One point against DIY - he mentioned that in order to fuel the generator and their gas appliances, their gas line needed to be upsized. All said, needed the yard and part of the street torn up, permits from county, etc.
I understand this to mean the generator pulls from an external natural gas line, not his own tanks. Is that correct?
Yeah, city gas. We're in the northern VA suburbs. Quite a lot of houses here have them. Not sure if we're prone to many outages (lots of trees...), the neighbor mentioned that after snowmageddon there were some state rebates on the generators. Apparently it was a good deal... until the gas line had to be replaced.
I am having trouble seeing the appeal here. Can't the gas line "go out" too? Am I missing something?

Thanks
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Re: Should I purchase a whole house generator?

Post by tomd37 »

I've never heard of a gas line going out. Only an explosion when a line is ruptured somehow. :wink:
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Re: Should I purchase a whole house generator?

Post by neilpilot »

000 wrote: Wed Aug 05, 2020 9:30 pm

I am having trouble seeing the appeal here. Can't the gas line "go out" too? Am I missing something?

Thanks
In theory I guess it can. I’ve owned 5 homes With NG service in 4 states over 40+ years and have not yet had my gas “go out”.
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Re: Should I purchase a whole house generator?

Post by ResearchMed »

000 wrote: Wed Aug 05, 2020 9:30 pm
ResearchMed wrote: Wed Aug 05, 2020 9:22 pm
000 wrote: Wed Aug 05, 2020 9:11 pm
Quercus Palustris wrote: Wed Aug 05, 2020 9:07 pm Our next door neighbor has a whole house natural gas Generac, with automatic switch over. It will run the AC and I think heat pump, as well as lights etc. One point against DIY - he mentioned that in order to fuel the generator and their gas appliances, their gas line needed to be upsized. All said, needed the yard and part of the street torn up, permits from county, etc.
I understand this to mean the generator pulls from an external natural gas line, not his own tanks. Is that correct?
That is what ours does.

I think that is a main feature of a "natural gas" generator, vs., say, propane or gasoline/etc.

But our main line didn't need to be changed at all... just a smaller diameter pipe that goes out through a basement window, and the generator sits on a cement pad right there. Well, slightly away from the house.
We had a row of some small boxwoods put along the "outside" edge of the generator, for aesthetics. But it is still obvious what it is. And if you are standing there, it does make noise when it is running, which also makes it hard to miss. But we don't mind that at all, given the convenience.

RM
Quercus Palustris wrote: Wed Aug 05, 2020 9:26 pm
000 wrote: Wed Aug 05, 2020 9:11 pm
Quercus Palustris wrote: Wed Aug 05, 2020 9:07 pm Our next door neighbor has a whole house natural gas Generac, with automatic switch over. It will run the AC and I think heat pump, as well as lights etc. One point against DIY - he mentioned that in order to fuel the generator and their gas appliances, their gas line needed to be upsized. All said, needed the yard and part of the street torn up, permits from county, etc.
I understand this to mean the generator pulls from an external natural gas line, not his own tanks. Is that correct?
Yeah, city gas. We're in the northern VA suburbs. Quite a lot of houses here have them. Not sure if we're prone to many outages (lots of trees...), the neighbor mentioned that after snowmageddon there were some state rebates on the generators. Apparently it was a good deal... until the gas line had to be replaced.
I am having trouble seeing the appeal here. Can't the gas line "go out" too? Am I missing something?

Thanks
Nat gas lines are always underground (not hanging from poles along the street :shock: ) and they tend to be well maintained, probably because of the catastrophic nature of any failure. (Those have happened, rarely, and usually make the major news because of the nature of the outcome/damage/etc.)

We've had a very occasional advance notice from the utility company that there would be a scheduled outage, if, for example, they are upgrading the underground lines, or recently, when (it seemed) a neighbor was running a new gas line to a house that had been only electric before).

RM
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Re: Should I purchase a whole house generator?

Post by lazydavid »

neilpilot wrote: Wed Aug 05, 2020 9:35 pmIn theory I guess it can. I’ve owned 5 homes With NG service in 4 states over 40+ years and have not yet had my gas “go out”.
I don’t have quite your breadth of experience, but have likewise never had gas service “go out” in my 40+ years. Nor have I ever met anyone who has told me they have experienced it themselves. I have to admit it is a technical possibility. But absolutely not something that would go into my planning process.
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Re: Should I purchase a whole house generator?

Post by suemarkp »

There is a large cost fork in the road between an automatic transfer system and a manual. The electric code requires a generator on an ATS (automatic transfer switch) to be large enough to run everything in the panel connected to it. How you prove that will be up to the electrical inspector. A load calculation is sufficient, but produces a number way higher than reality so you pay for a generator larger than you need. A 24 KW generator is 100 amps at 240V. If you have a 200A panel, you may have well over 100A of connected load so that generator could be too small. "Load shedding" devices can be installed to disallow certain heavy power pigs to not run when on the generator (e.g. oven, Tesla charger). Or, a subpanel could be installed whose calculated load matches the generator. This is easier and nicer, but all of these things affect cost. The ATS approach is nice and you typically don't have to mess with stuff. But cost is way higher than using a portable generator.

A manual transfer switch permits you to turn breakers on or off in your panel to remove excessive load and switch things in and out over time to keep the generator loaded without tripping its main breaker (manual load shedding). This is much cheaper, and is usually done with a subpanel install. If you are an electrical idiot, then this approach may not work well if you don't understand how much load each item in the house is, or which leg of the service it is on. Installing amp or watt meters can help you through this, but I don't think my wife would be able to figure it out or drag the 15KW "portable" generator to where it needs to go to plug in.

The manual transfer switch allows a smaller portable generator. That approach may not work for you if you want an alarm clock that works 24/7. It may be cheaper to buy some Uninterruptable Power Supplies (UPS) for critical things like alarm clocks, network hardware, computer, and a portable 6000 to 10000 watt generator to run things like water heaters, microwaves, and refrigerators. If you have a central air conditioner, you'll need a larger generator whether you go portable or permanent.

If money is no object, go with the permanent generator and ATS. How much value this provides is difficult to say. If you live in hurricane alley, it may be a negative not to have one and you'd get some premium for a permanent ATS system -vs- portable. But if power outages in your wide area aren't typical (just your specific neighborhood), it may not make much difference when selling.
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Re: Should I purchase a whole house generator?

Post by Watty »

Just for brainstorming we have a fireplace with a natural gas insert that will keep the house from getting too cold when the power is out. Since it is natural gas we can just run it as long as we need it. That is also enough to keep the pipes from freezing if we let them run a trickle.

We can even sleep in front of it if needed and make it a romantic evening with the power out.

We also have a natural gas water heater that still works with the power is out.
iamlucky13 wrote: Wed Aug 05, 2020 6:02 pm For the stated problems you are trying to solve, the most cost effective thing to do would probably be to use an alarm clock that can run on batteries (which could be a phone you already have) and a small portable generator. Actually, you should have an alarm clock that can run on batteries anyways, because none of your options guarantee power won't blink out long enough for the clock to lose its settings.
+1

A refrigerator full of food can be replaced for a few hundred dollars, if that.

Food in a freezer should keep at least a day, and probably two or more if it is wintertime and the house is cool.

You can also move out to a hotel if you want.

Unless you are in some special situation like with major health issues It is really hard to justify them just on financial grounds.

That is not to say that buying a whole house generator might not be worth the cost to you as discretionary spending but be careful about talking yourself into thinking that you really need it. They are usually more of a want but if you can afford it then there is nothing wrong with that.
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Re: Should I purchase a whole house generator?

Post by greengrass222 »

Use a cell phone's built in alarm clock, it won't fail.

I believe whole house generators are loud. Why not get solar panels with battery backup? They can easily store 2 days worth of electricity and automatically switch on and off to the grid.

Enphase is even coming out with a system later this year that doesn't need batteries and can power your house during a power outage.
https://www.acsolarwarehouse.com/news/e ... -the-grid/
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Re: Should I purchase a whole house generator?

Post by HomeStretch »

If you can afford a standby generator, go for it (but don’t DIY).

We lose power 4-6 times a year usually for short periods. We are currently without power due to storm Isaias (38 hours) and power likely won’t be restored for a few more days. Our portable generator with manual transfer switch has been great for keeping the refrigerator going, hot water, etc. But for convenience and comfort, we are going to install a whole house standby generator with automatic transfer switch/load shedding.
Last edited by HomeStretch on Thu Aug 06, 2020 12:19 pm, edited 2 times in total.
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Re: Should I purchase a whole house generator?

Post by neilpilot »

HomeStretch wrote: Thu Aug 06, 2020 3:36 am We lose power 4-6 times a year usually for short periods. We are currently without power due to storm Isaias (38 hours) and power likely won’t be restored for a few more days. Our portable generator with manual transfer switch has been great for keeping the refrigerator going, hot water, etc. But for convenience and comfort, we are going to install a whole house standby generator with automatic transfer switch/load shedding.
It seems that even 38 hours into the outage, you are able to maintain internet connectivity with other Bogelheads. What more "convenience and comfort" could you possibly ask for? :)
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Re: Should I purchase a whole house generator?

Post by Jack FFR1846 »

This is probably on the border of "want" and "need" in your case.

You're late for work because the alarm clock doesn't go off? 2 solutions that don't involve an $11k machine: 1) use your phone as an alarm. Most phones have a battery that doesn't require home power to work. 2) Spend $7 for a dedicated battery alarm clock or $10 for one that's plugged in with a battery backup.

For the refrigerator and such, buy a small generator, run the power cord into the house and run things that are important to you. I have a generator and run our downstairs refrigerator, upstairs refrigerator, Fios box, sump pump, water heater, furnace (in the winter), upstairs TV and outlets in the kitchen and upstairs family room for lights. Ours is a 5500 Watt Generac that's overkill but it's what Lowes had when we had a regional power outage. It takes me about half an hour to set this all up and another half hour to later take it down. I keep a 5 gallon can of gas in the garage that I'll put into one of our cars every couple weeks, then refill so it's fresh. When the event is done, empty the gas from the generator and run it out to completely get rid of all the gas. I found out the hard way when I did not do this that my generator would not start. After draining and removing all the gas, the next time, I simply filled the tank, turned the knob to start and it started.
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Re: Should I purchase a whole house generator?

Post by carolinaman »

We have portable generator, 7500 watts, and use it whenever power is out for more than a few hours. It is a pain to setup. I have to lug it from storage building to setup location. Get all my heavy duty power cords setup (I know, I should have electrical cutover) and crank it up and monitor it regularly. It runs everything the wife and I need except HVAC.

We had 2 extended outages last year, 4+ days each time without power. One was a hurricane and the other was a bad ice storm, which we tend to get every few years. The ice storms are the worse because it is usually very cold and even with space heaters, hard to heat the house. Some may be surprised that NC gets so many ice storms but ice storms and pine trees do not mix well.

I am getting too old (75) to lug this generator around. DW has been pushing the idea of a whole house system, so maybe we will get a quote. We have natural gas already which should make it more attractive. Personally, I do not think it is cost effective to install a whole house system which is why I have resisted doing it for so long.
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Re: Should I purchase a whole house generator?

Post by egrets »

I had a 16KW Generac installed 2 years ago in New England, total cost of generator, installation, electrical and gas connections $7800. It included a whole house automatic transfer switch and something whose name I forget that turns off the AC if the load is about to get too much in an attempt to save the power to everything else. I needed to fork out to get more electrical power for the house, but the gas was sufficient.

I love the generator, my only complaint is the noise. However people with larger lots can site theirs far enough away that that is apparently not a problem. I have seen noise absorbing enclosures, but those have to be careful about ventilation, etc.
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Re: Should I purchase a whole house generator?

Post by egrets »

carolinaman wrote: Thu Aug 06, 2020 7:08 am
I am getting too old (75) to lug this generator around. DW has been pushing the idea of a whole house system, so maybe we will get a quote. We have natural gas already which should make it more attractive. Personally, I do not think it is cost effective to install a whole house system which is why I have resisted doing it for so long.
It probably isn't cost effective, but it beats five days in a row with no power in heat waves or snow storms when you wonder if you all and the pets are about to get heat stroke or pneumonia.
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Re: Should I purchase a whole house generator?

Post by TomatoTomahto »

lazydavid wrote: Wed Aug 05, 2020 10:09 pm
neilpilot wrote: Wed Aug 05, 2020 9:35 pmIn theory I guess it can. I’ve owned 5 homes With NG service in 4 states over 40+ years and have not yet had my gas “go out”.
I don’t have quite your breadth of experience, but have likewise never had gas service “go out” in my 40+ years. Nor have I ever met anyone who has told me they have experienced it themselves. I have to admit it is a technical possibility. But absolutely not something that would go into my planning process.
It does happen. This happened locally. https://www.google.com/amp/s/lincoln.wi ... ate=ampart

That said, it is incredibly rare. I have heard of gas being turned off prophylactically during earthquakes.
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Re: Should I purchase a whole house generator?

Post by TomatoTomahto »

greengrass222 wrote: Thu Aug 06, 2020 12:24 am Use a cell phone's built in alarm clock, it won't fail.

I believe whole house generators are loud. Why not get solar panels with battery backup? They can easily store 2 days worth of electricity and automatically switch on and off to the grid.

Enphase is even coming out with a system later this year that doesn't need batteries and can power your house during a power outage.
https://www.acsolarwarehouse.com/news/e ... -the-grid/
I am a proponent of solar plus batteries (having 32 kWh of batteries at home), but it is more expensive than a backup generator. It’s also cleaner and quieter and useful even when the grid is up, but it’s more expensive. Additionally, not everyone’s house is suitable for solar.

ETA: I was hoping for IQ8, but gave up and installed IQ7. IQ8 will be great, but when?
Last edited by TomatoTomahto on Thu Aug 06, 2020 7:34 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Should I purchase a whole house generator?

Post by A440 »

iamlucky13 wrote: Wed Aug 05, 2020 8:43 pm
go_mets wrote: Wed Aug 05, 2020 7:18 pm
iamlucky13 wrote: Wed Aug 05, 2020 6:02 pm A 2000W inverter generator should be plenty to run a modern refrigerator with minimal noise compared to less expensive portable generators. These can be had for $500-1000 (The base model Champion on sale price at the low end, and a Honda at the high end).
We lost power for about 20 hours because of Isias.
I saw this inverter sold at Harbor Freight.
Seems to get good reviews.
https://www.harborfreight.com/2000-watt ... 63429.html
Your thoughts?

There are larger capacity ones 3000/6000 and 5000/10000 ones as well.
To clarify, an inverter is a type of electrical device (they convert DC power to AC). An inverter generator includes an inverter as one of its parts, but what you linked to is only an inverter, and a type intended to be used with batteries.

At full load, that inverter would drain a large car battery in less than 30 minutes. Such a setup might be able to run a refrigerator for 4 hours or so. It's not what I would recommend for a power outage. A good inverter generator could run a fridge for up to 8 hours per gallon of gas.

Harbor Freight does have a line of inverter generators, but they're nearly as expensive as the Champion brand. I don't know if they're of comparable quality, but I've heard Champion quality is mixed, so perhaps. Honda is top of the line, but pricey.

Here's the Harbor Freight model:
https://www.harborfreight.com/engines-g ... 62523.html
We bought this model (see link above) in May and use it with a 4 circuit manual transfer switch https://www.electricgeneratorsdirect.co ... XEQAvD_BwE. We had the switch installed by an electrician. Total cost for everything was just under $1,000. The four circuits power kitchen refrigerator and several outlets, lights/wifi/tv/gaming system in family room, laundry room gas dryer and washer. We have used the set-up twice, most recently after Isaias came through. I like having the small portable generator for other things in the shed that run on electric: leaf blower, snow thrower, chainsaw. I can also take it camping and to pregame tailgate parties (when Covid is over).
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Re: Should I purchase a whole house generator?

Post by egrets »

suemarkp wrote: Wed Aug 05, 2020 10:58 pm There is a large cost fork in the road between an automatic transfer system and a manual. The electric code requires a generator on an ATS (automatic transfer switch) to be large enough to run everything in the panel connected to it. How you prove that will be up to the electrical inspector. A load calculation is sufficient, but produces a number way higher than reality so you pay for a generator larger than you need. A 24 KW generator is 100 amps at 240V. If you have a 200A panel, you may have well over 100A of connected load so that generator could be too small. "Load shedding" devices can be installed to disallow certain heavy power pigs to not run when on the generator (e.g. oven, Tesla charger). Or, a subpanel could be installed whose calculated load matches the generator. This is easier and nicer, but all of these things affect cost. The ATS approach is nice and you typically don't have to mess with stuff. But cost is way higher than using a portable generator.
I think you're making this much too complicated.

My 16 kw Generac is certainly not large enough to run everything in the house simultaneously. It does have a not much cost item to shed the AC if that is required. Otherwise if it overloads, I am to turn some stuff off. I believe it checks every few minutes and will restart automatically once the requested load is okay. It never has overloaded, presumably because I don't have everything in the house running at once even under normal circumstances.
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Re: Should I purchase a whole house generator?

Post by suemarkp »

It isn't me making it complicated, it is the national electric code. Maybe that code doesn't apply to your install or it was installed prior to that rule. I think it was a Florida hurricane that drove the code rule -- too many had generators that would not run the air conditioning and people didn't understand load shedding.
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Re: Should I purchase a whole house generator?

Post by dknightd »

I think you should buy one. The neighbors will thank you (except once a week when it does its self test).
My experience is every time one of my neighbors buys one of these we have at least 2 years without a power failure.

We just had a 1.5 day power outage. We survived with our little honda generator and extension cords. One day it might be our turn to buy one. I'll size it to pick up all our loads. Darling wife likes AC. Our little generator can only do fridge and a few lights. Luckily this time the weather was not too hot after we lost power.
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Re: Should I purchase a whole house generator?

Post by Watty »

One thing that has not been mentioned is that you also have to consider what the lifespan of a generator is. I don't have any idea but if it will only last for 20 years(? or whatever) then you need to budget for that.

You also asked about if it added to the homes value. If the generator is old when you go to sell the house it could actually reduce your homes value since the next owner might have to pay to replace it or take it out.
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Re: Should I purchase a whole house generator?

Post by ddurrett896 »

I live on the east coast and lose power about 1x/year. If I lost power 5x/year I'd have a whole home generator no doubt!

If you go with a portable, it will cost probably $1,000 all in. I have the generator below and use one to backfeed and power my entire house EXCEPT air conditioning. Yea yea yea I know main off so the grid doesn't get backfeed. I run 24/7 and I burn 8 gallons a day.

Generator: $800
30 Amp generator hookup: $50
30 Amp breaker and 10/3: $50
Couple 5 gallon gas cans: $100

https://www.bjs.com/product/champion-po ... art/248604

Pro is I can bring with me if I sell my house. Plus, I've played pass the generator game when my power restores and a friend or family is still down.
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Re: Should I purchase a whole house generator?

Post by linuxizer »

Lots of discussion about the (genuine) installation issues. I'd worry as well about the maintenance issues on the used whole house generator. Having just done the maintenance to get a portable generator started and appropriately cared for, my guess is used generators are like used boats.

If you go portable, likely need a ground rod or a tie in to your houses ground/plumbing that you can run to. Go with dual fuel and run it off LPG. MUCH easier cleanup and fuel storage and it's better for the generator (gas corrodes seals, gels up inside engine, etc.). Get an inverter as well. They cycle down when there's less load so more fuel efficient, a lot less noise, cleaner power. Unfortunately more $ and rarer to find duel fuel. We got the Champion 3200w for around $1k.

HF inverter models are based off the Honda design and supposed to be great. For $150 you can convert to natural gas or LP using kits available online.
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Re: Should I purchase a whole house generator?

Post by lazydavid »

linuxizer wrote: Thu Aug 06, 2020 8:50 am If you go portable, likely need a ground rod or a tie in to your houses ground/plumbing that you can run to.
I'm not sure why this would be necessary if you are backfeeding. There should be a ground conductor as part of the cable going into the ground inlet on the house. Mine is 230V, so it has 4 conductors--Hot, Hot, Neutral, Ground. The Ground is automatically connected to the house ground. It might actually be detrimental for the generator to have its own independent ground, as now you open the possibility of having a ground differential, which could lead to current flow over the ground wire when there is not a fault.
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