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Generator Suggestions Guest Column by Steve Denney — 38 Comments

  1. All good tips. And remember, do not run a generator in an attached or under garage! CO build up can happen very quickly. It’s wise (and may already be required by law depending on where you live) to have working CO monitors in your house. Highly recommended.

    Also, I have a pair of over-the-head ear protection that I have near my generators. The small Honda inverter is pretty pretty quiet even at load, but the larger Honda is very loud. Ear protection can’t be overstated if your hovering near the generator for more than a few minutes.

  2. Nice list. I’ll note that most of this is applicable to snow throwers as well, though I don’t know that they need to be run every 3-4 months. Snowstorms can be as unpredictable as power outages, and so the details about keeping gas fresh apply. I know because I had to replace my carburetor on my machine a few years ago due to old gas being run through it. Now I empty the tank after the season into my car’s gas tank.

  3. All very good advice! My only other suggestion would be to open the main breaker on your electric panel if there is the most remote chance that you may be back feeding the power lines. If you are using extesion cords from the generator directly to the appliances you are probably OK. If you are back feeding the electric panel without aa transfer switch the main breaker has to be OPEN to protect any linemen trying to restore power. I know that back feeding a panel is dangerous and probably illegal but I also know it happens!

    • This is totally important information, assuming it is correct, which seems most likely. I wonder how many people know this.

  4. We’ve had a Generac generator for years now. Living where we do in NH, we generally will have a power outage every couple of years. With today’s ethanol gas, it’s not a bad idea, when you are done using the generator, to empty the gas out, run the engine dry and then run a couple of cups of non-ethanol gas that you can buy from Home Depot or Lowe’s through the engine to clean out any residual ethanol from the engine.

    I generally store the generator without fuel but if a major weather event threatens I’ll fill its tank as it’s just more gas on hand (I usually keep a few cans of gas on hand at the house that I cycle through on a regular basis).

    Another thing I’ve found out about my generator is that the auto-cutoff switch that prevents it from being run if there isn’t enough oil in the engine will activate when the oil dip stick says it is half full. For my unit, I have to insure that the oil level is at the top of the cross-hatched area on the dip stick. Half way up that area is a no-go.

  5. I found out If you don’t run your “GENERATOR’ in 2 years AS I have did WOW my son had to clean the gas tank out and replace the carbonator $$$$ I was one that learn the hard way

  6. Better than using Stabil is using non-ethanol gasoline or avgas (which has no ethanol). The storage problem is due to the ethanol — not “modern gasoline” per se. Ask around, there is a station near you that sells non-ethanol gasoline.

  7. Great article. Be safe people.

    I waited to get a generator for some while. I wanted a portable for multiple reasons. I finally settled on a dual fuel: propane (the portable thing again) and gasoline.

    I broke it in with propane and have no plans to use gasoline. (See #1, 2, 3, 7a and 7d of the first part above). I have always run engines dry of gasoline and have engines I have started after 5 or more years with no problems.

    Bad gasoline, even with a stabilizer is a concern & requires attention to cycle it occasionally. And with ethanol in gasoline, moisture becomes a problem. No such problem with propane that I know of. Availability may still be an issue but I have a 100 lbs tank used for nothing else at the moment.

    I bought a Champion dual fuel. It is adequate for my needs, portable and I have no gasoline fouling or bad gasoline concerns.

    Wow. Again with a product name. I have no affiliation with Champion. Just be careful if looking. I heard from a fellow who had trouble with a Champion discount outfit in WA State. I bought from Amazon. Love my generator!

  8. If you have a portable generator, be sure to lock it securely to a permanent fence or in-ground secure point. The new inverter generators are so light a young teenager can carry one away. If you have a larger unit with inflatable tires, take the air out of the tires so it cannot be rolled away easily.

    Generators are worth a lot in a crisis, protect yours.

  9. God stuff, the voice of wisdom earned over years.

    Personally I prefer to never leave ANY fuel in the tank of a gasoline powered machine when it won’t be used for some time. Then you cannot forget and leave old fuel in too long. The problem with normal car fuel is the ethanol Uncle Stupid has mandated to be blended in. That alcohol draws moisture out of the air, then it condenses in the fuel tank over time. Even running it every once in a while does not prevent this. Any area that has boating activity will most likely have non-ethanol fuel. It costs a bit more, but is well worth it. Two stroke engines do not run well on the ethanol blends. It is also that alcohol that leads to the very short pot life of the fuel. Stop using it, you’re done with that issue. Even so, rotate the fuel as advised.

    The periodic running UNDER LOAD and for an extended time (half hour plus) is VERY important. You do NOT want to start it and let it idle for five minutes then shut it down. this leads to long term engine issues.
    His advice to shut off the fuel to starve the engine into shutdown is critical, especially with alcohol blended fuel. carburetters hate ethanol fuel, it can destroy them over time if left sitting. Areas with hish relative humidity for part of the year are particularly bad for small engines and fuel that sits. The Pacific Northwest is one, most of the eastern seaboard and deep south is as well.

    There is an alternate product to Stabil, its called SolTron. A bit harder to find but superior in every way. It can restore degraded fuel and make it run almost normally, and it prevents breakdown for far longer.

    The absolute cure for rotten gasoline issues and indefinite storage life is to get a machine that is equipped to run on propane. Natural gas is an option, but that puts you dependent upon a delivered product, that might not happen in dire straits. Propane keeps forever in the steel cannisters. A barbeque size bottle holds a LOT of fuel. Keeping half a dozen on hand will give you power for perhaps a couple months. Propane burns clean, does not emit CO when burned (forklifts running on propane are used in closed spaces like warehouses).

    If you already have your gennie, there are kits available to add propane as a fuel option, or replace the gasoilne option altogether. Relatively simple to install and callibrate. Propane is still far cheaper per unit of energy contained, partly because it brings to road taxes. If you already have a large propane tank at your place, you can either hard plumb the gennie into that system, or get a “wet hose” so you can refill your barbie bottles yourself.

    An engine fueld by propane will last far longer, as carbon is not built up in the lube oil, nor on internal engine parts. No need to periodicially start and run, though giving the pull start cord a yank or two ever couple months to assure the engine stays free, particularly in moist areas, is a good idea. Or wing it over on the electric starter, fuel shut off, does the same thing. Using a full synthetic oil also helps. That stuff coats metal and stays there far longer than conventional oils do.

    The above is based on my four decades plus of marine and automotive repairs on equipment of all sizes…. lawnmowers to large vessels. Things to consider.

  10. Go dual fuel, and power off propane. No such thing as stale or contaminated propane. And if you have a pool, you probably have a tank already….

  11. Inverter generators also have the advantage of not needing to spin at 3600 rpm at low wattage loads unlike conventional generators. also gasoline supplies, as noted, can be sparse as it was in N.H. during a 6 day ice storm outage. I use a Honda 2000 watt inverter generator. Quiet, sips fuel and more than enough wattage for emergency use. Will run a fridge and pellet stove and lights. Chain it up outside for sure!

  12. We had a 15 KW, propane Generator set, Hooked to 1,000 Gallon Tank, installed for Y2K, but almost since it was new, it would start, and run well for about 20/25 Minutes, and then, while we were standing there, beside it, suddenly the RPM would drop, and the motor sounded like it as missing?

    When I checked the spark plugs, the contact on just one plug was bent over so far, it was touching the center electrode?

    Replacing that plug and restarting the cooled down Generator, produced the same Results?

    I wondered whether it had something to do with the motor Heating up, and causing reduction of an internal space, which caused the repeated bending of the Spark Plug’s Ground arm?

    Anyway, the 15KW output wasn’t enough to run the whole Home with, and we seldom needed it to boot, so we never fixed it, or replaced it, with a 20KW, or 25KW, Generator unit?

    Still, I wonder what had caused this unit to constantly bend the spark plug arm?

    Any HELP, or Ideas?

    Paul

  13. I bought my 4.5kw Honda generator in 1977 or ’78 and it is still going like new. Bought it originally to power our double wide mobile home before we got power and it was used a lot to power equipment before the battery operated stuff. We had an electrician wire it to our well pump breaker box in case of power outage here at the ranch so we could at least get water for the critters. It is wired so that when the generator is on, the hard wired power is off. We have always used no-e gas in it with Stabil and keep 5 gal cans filled with no-e gas and Stabil for the generator, snow blower and ATV. 40 year old generator is a testament to the quality and reliability of Honda. Taking the time to follow the advice in this article has saved us a lot of grief.

  14. Your transfer switch installation MUST be inspected and approved by your local electric utility company. If you backfeed their lines through your step-down transformer, your emergency generator is putting at least 2400 volts on their lines as they are working to restore your power. I recommend a Generac (or equivalent) whole house propane-powered stand-by generator system including their automatic failover switching gear. Mine is 14 KVA capacity with a 1500 gallon propane tank, which would run continuously for 30 days. The system automatically runs the generator off-line for 10 minutes, once each week for “keep alive” exercise. There is no concern about fuel aging-out with propane, and bulk storage is feasible.

    • Unfortunately propane has this issue of portability.
      You can’t fill a can and carry it home from the neighbors place in a pinch, or drain some from an abandoned vehicle.

      • You can if your generator works on propane or gasoline. Ours has a line to our house propane tank but it’s pretty hard to start by hand hand on propane so we keep some gas for it so we can pull start it if the battery is dead.

  15. I know everyone lives in wonderful neighborhoods and nothing bad ever happens. But advice from when Sandy hit the mid-atlantic states. Good people had portable generators running to keep essentials in the fridge, lights on, etc. Generators make noise. Lights are beacons. These houses stood out like sore thumbs in areas without power for upwards of 10 days. Bad people drove around at nite, targeted the house with the generator. In 60 seconds, at 2am in the morning the generator was in the back of a pick up truck and gone.

    Everything in life has a downside.

    • Long Island Mike,

      True. My relatively small town had two police officers at open gas stations during Superstorm Sandy, just to make sure no one got desperate and violent. Thieves stole a county-owned generator. Months later, I asked the supermarket manager if they would get generators so the store freezers would stay on keeping the meat from spoiling. He said that would be too expensive, so we are on our own.

      All this advice about generators is helpful, but LI Mike is right about everything having a downside. I’m sure everyone reading this blog knows how to live without electricity. But imagine this scenario; children grow up in a house with a generator. Everytime the power goes off the generator goes on. But one time the generator breaks down or runs out of fuel during a long outage. What will kids do who haven’t learned how to live without electricity? We have to be prepared for Murphy’s Law.

  16. When “exercising” it must be under significant load, and you ought to run a whole tank of fuel through it in the process.
    Put your Sta-Bil in the gas can when the can is emptied, that way any gas you have on hand is already treated. Rotate stored supplies by running through the car/mower/tractor/ whatever

    Seasonal fuel blends differ significantly and the stuff you get in winter is better for storage as it has an additive package better suited for storage.

    Propane is nice but is not portable.
    When your tank is empty, you cannot refill it. In a pinch you can drain your car/mower/boat/abandoned vehicles for gasoline.
    Diesel stores best and provides the most versatility but initial cost is expensive.

    • A definite good point, but you really don’t need to run a full tank through at one time. I worked at a place that had multiple back up diesel generators and they were run one hour once per month. They were run without load, but the alternators they powered had heaters to keep moisture out of the coils when they weren’t under load. About 1/2 to 3/4 load is needed to heat the alternator/generator coils to cook out any moisture.

  17. I would add to this…..use a full synthetic oil ( I have used Mobil 1 in all my engines

    ….cars, trucks, motorcycles, lawn mowers…etc for over 40 years …best oil in the world )..

    is especially good for applications where the engine isn’t run often because the oil adheres

    to the metal engine parts much longer than petroleum oils, and causes much less wear

    on start up…where most engine wear occurs.

  18. Generators can be a lifesaver in times of emergency. During and following the last hurricane (Irma) we were without power from the grid for eight days… Happily the year before we had installed a GENRAC 22.5kw full house generator.

    While the neighborhood was without electric power, our whole house was powered… It uses quite a lot of fuel (about 20 gal per day) which makes it fairly expensive power, but it was well worth the costs.

    The new generation of generators are very easy to use… this one starts it’s self once a week, runs for about 15 min then shuts down automatically… it then sends me an e-mail telling me it has run and all is well (and if not all well it would tell me I need service.)

    If power fails, it starts and automatically transfers the house to generator power. When power is restored, the generator transfers back to the grid and shuts down with so little lag appliances with electric clocks don’t even have to be reset. The only attention required is to check the oil level every few days.

    We run ours on propane which works very well… we had considered diesel but GENRAC recommended Propane, not only because it stores well, but also because in an emergence there are more sources of Propane than Diesel so re-supply is a lot easier.

    I highly recommend the GENRAC systems… ours worked very well indeed.

    • For inflating tires and other pneumatics I have both a quality bicycle pump and a small, portable truck tire compressor that runs off an auto’s cigarette lighter. The electric compressor is very handy to carry in the trunk. Light and reliable, it tends to pay for itself over time. Useful for helping other people, too.

    • Long-term solar generation helps solve fuel capacity limitations. My experience with large diesel-engine backup for the newer solar battery systems has been positive. Propane or dual could be be more convenient. My current setup is 19 solar cells on the roof in cooperation with the power grid, and I don’t know exactly yet what the situation would be if the Arizona grid went down long-term, especially in one of our windier monsoons. Looking into it. Hopeful of just being able to throw a switch and cut off grid issues. Betting it will require solar battery support. Very glad this topic was brought up.

  19. Maybe I’m different? I just read the owners manual. Pretty much sums up all that is discussed here, and then some.

    There again, one tip that the owners manual doesn’t suggest is installing a fuel shut off valve, if it doesn’t already have one. Outside of that, just read the owners manual.

  20. I’d also like to put in a vote for getting your amateur “ham” radio license. When TSHTF, phones, cell service, and internet disappear. Having the ability to stay in contact with loved ones, the surrounding community and the world is worth its weight in gold when things go south.

    Check out the web site for the ARRL in Newington, CT. They are the national ham radio club, and can help you study to get your license.

  21. Yo Mas: Your favorite pain in the butt former student here, with suggestions! Stick with Honda or Generac , quality stuff!… Do not fall into the trap of Chinese copy crap sold in big box and/or Warehouse stores; if your life depends on it, in a Grid Down situation.
    Call around to your local Chain Saw, Lawnmower,or Motorcycle shops to find 2 products: 1. “Clear” gasoline,(No Moisture drawing alcohol). 2. “Star*Tron” A new Enzyme Gas; Stabilizer, that outlasts and beats hell out of STayBil! Outboard Motor Boat shops carry this! 1 Oz. to 16 gal. of gal of Gas, makes it a damn good bargain too!

    Stay Safe, Tom Kelly

    I totally agree with using a Synthetic Oil as well!

  22. Perhaps I missed it, but, RE: #7-C (rechecking your oil level) – you should wait until the engine cools down first – to allow for all the oil to return to the pan/reservoir. This will insure an accurate reading.

  23. A better fuel stabilizer:

    https://www.amazon.com/PRI-Fuel-Stabilizer–Gasoline-32oz/dp/B007ECE3IM/

    This blogger has excellent long term storage with it:

    http://www.commanderzero.com/?tag=fuel-2
    Some time the past year he detailed discovering he had overlooked a couple fuel cans that were stashed ~4 or 5 years ago, IIRC. Still good.

    Don’t forget to start with good gas that is not gasohol. Chevron is good. It’s the only gas in No. Calif that my turbocharged car will run well on. Dramatic difference!

  24. BTW, ” #3, Keep a minimal amount of gas in the generator gas tank…”, is not a good idea.

    If it is not in use, the tank should be kept FULL or EMPTY. A partial tank is how it collects water, since the fuel absorbs water from the air. Limit the amount of air the fuel contacts. I would consider looking into plugging the vented filler cap when not running, especially in humid areas. Warning: that vent is required when the engine is running.