Plan 'B' Power Supply
Cog: After several months of research into both the various types and brands of standby generators as well as multiple installation methods, including a complete assessment of our home's unique electrical setup (two 200 amp services rather than the normal one) and construction method (a log home that was half factory built and half custom built on site) we decided on the 17 kilowatt Generac propane powered model with a separate 16 circuit transfer switch instead of the whole house transfer switch.
There just wasn't an easy or cheap way to separate one 200 amp electrical service from the other. Transferring the generator over to power both electrical services ran the very real possibility of overloading the generator at any time, especially during a heavy winter load. Using the 16 circuit transfer panel allowed me to select specific critical circuits that I wanted to power with the generator without the risk of overload. Ultimately this allowed me to run nearly everything in the house as well as the water wood stove while building flexibility into the system to quickly switch in or out other circuits as needed or desired, an option that will be most welcome during extended power outages.
After several phone calls to various suppliers we purchased the 17kw Generac online from Northern Tool & Equipment. Overall we were pleased with Northern Tool's customer service and ultimately with Generac, but not with Generac's shipping company. After several missed delivery appointments and repeated warnings from us to use a shorter delivery truck of course they sent it out on a tractor trailer.
Ultimately when the delivery driver stopped at the entrance to our dirt road and would go no further out of fear of getting stuck, neighbors we had never met before offered the driver the use of their pickup truck to off load the 600 lbs of generator/transfer switch and deliver it the final mile of dirt road to our house. A perfect example of neighbor helping neighbor that is unspoken and simply a way of life out here on the mountain.
I directed them to the vacant lot across the road from us that just happened to have an abandoned deck whose height easily matched the height of the rear of the pickup truck deck. I did not want to try and wrestle all that weight down from the back of the pickup in a hurry.
Below you can see the generator partially unpacked on the deck with the transfer switch already unpacked and on a cart ready to be hauled across the street.
Click on the images for more detail.
After setting up a ramp system I managed to muscle the generator down and onto a hand built cart left by the prior owner of our home using a steel bar and rope to lift one side, then the other. Can you say rope burns on the neck and shoulders?
The generator location we selected was about 35 feet from the house on the other side of two rows of 15 year old pine trees that were planted by the prior owner as a wind break. This put the generator out of eye sight with the trees acting as a noise buffer.
However because the generator was placed more than the usual five feet from the house I needed to bury two inch electrical conduit and pull oversized (4 gauge) electrical conductors and 12 gauge control wires from the basement to the generator site.
While digging the trench thru the trees I ran into some very large roots. Rather than damage the trees I carefully ran the conduit under two large root bundles.
The generator feed wire pull was actually done in two stages. The first stage was to pull the majority of the wire from the junction box out to the generator pad. Below you can see the conductors and control cables fed into the conduit at the house with 16 feet left to run into the house later.
Here you can see the other end of the feed cable bundle after it was pulled thru the conduit and out to the generator pad site I had previously built.
An old broom stick came in handy to hold the individual rolls of wire that were pulled down thru the conduit. You can see the loop at the end of the combined bundle where I then tied the rope I had previously buried inside the conduit in order to pull the wire bundle thru. I also pulled thru an extra rope just in case I wanted to add additional wire to the conduit at a later time.
Since this transfer panel was originally designed to be placed within two feet of the main electrical distribution panel, something I could not do because the main panel was shoehorned into the closet wall of the upstairs bedroom, that two foot long main pre-wired connecting cable coming in at the bottom left had to be discarded and new conduit installed and wired. Several of the heavier gauge cables were increased in gauge size to compensate for the longer run. Better safe than sorry.
In the image below the conduit coming in from the lower right is the new upgraded wire bundle feed cable from the generator. Total run from the transfer switch to the generator was almost 50 feet. In this picture (below) I have already stripped out all the factory pre-wire from the transfer switch/16 circuit panel that you see above and connected the newly run and upgraded generator feed and control cables.
The conduit coming in from the lower left is running upstairs into the front bedroom where the main 200 amp distribution circuit panel is located. Inside that two inch conduit are three 4 gauge power feed cables plus a 6 gauge ground, forty two 12 gauge wires, six 6 gauge wires, three 8 gauge wires and six 10 gauge wires. This obviously equals more than 16 circuits, but I wanted extra wires already installed in the conduit to allow me to change circuit panel wiring configurations quickly and easily. I over built for increased flexibility.
(See image below) Just above the 16 circuit breakers (in the basement generator transfer panel) you will find the automatic transfer switch which contains some mechanical control circuitry as well as the electromechanical transfer switch. When the electronic control panel on the generator itself senses that the utility power has failed (or drops below 60%) it waits 10 seconds, then starts the generator.
Five seconds later it physically throws the switch via the electromagnets and physically shuts off the main disconnect from the outside power and connects the now running generator to the 14 circuits I moved/rewired from the panel upstairs in the bedroom and the 2 circuits from the second 200 amp service panel. I only moved 14 circuits from upstairs because the two basement circuits (feeding an additional basement sub-panel) were already located in the basement and were transferred using a different cable.
Below you can see the upstairs bedroom 200 amp main distribution panel wired for 22 circuits. This doesn't include the sub-panel in the basement powered by the second 200 amp service previously discussed that runs the basement, blower and water wood stove boiler. In the lower left hand side of this main distribution panel you can see where I removed a two inch knock out and drilled out the plywood on the inside of the closet.
This is where I am running the two inch conduit, up thru the closet floor and into the back of the main distribution panel. This main distribution panel is located in the bedroom closet wall within 10 inches of a solid log exterior wall. There was just no other way to work this and still keep a neat appearance in the bedroom. The installed conduit in the closet barely intrudes into the usable space in the closet.
Below is the upstairs bedroom main distribution panel after all re-wiring is complete. Everything is nicely labeled and carefully coiled and routed, especially the extra unused circuits which have been properly capped and taped to prevent shorts. Since I never pulled the utility meter this was a live box I was working on. The wife was carefully watching me to make sure I did not fry myself.
In the upper left corner of the panel in the image below you can see a double pole 70 amp circuit breaker that I added. This actually feeds main utility power to the 16 circuit transfer panel in the basement. In other words what this system does is it takes power from the main distribution panel (in this case 70 amps) and sends it down to the 16 circuit transfer panel in the basement.
14 circuits of the original 22 found in the upstairs main distribution panel are then disconnected from the main distribution panel and transferred down to the 16 circuit sub panel in the basement via all those wires I ran in that two inch conduit thru the closet floor and down into the basement. The remaining 8 circuits stay wired into the main distribution panel and are energized by the main panel. Essentially 14 circuits and the electricity needed to power them have been moved to the basement. Everything else left in the main panel upstairs (8 non critical circuits such as a redundant heating system, outside outlets etc.) still works "normally" until the power fails.
When the outside utility power goes down the entire upstairs main distribution panel loses power including the 8 remaining circuits and the 70 amp double pole circuit breaker feeding the panel in the basement. Remember that the 14 circuits are no longer connected to the main distribution panel, only the remaining 8. The 14 were move/rewired to the panel downstairs.
If the utility power is lost (meaning the utility power is lost to the upstairs main distribution panel and to the basement panel) the generator starts, the basement transfer switch is activated and switches off the connection between the transfer panel in the basement and that 70 amp double pole circuit breaker upstairs. This isolates the panel in the basement from the outside world and prevents the generator from back feeding power through the upstairs distribution panel and outside into the utility lines.
We don't wish to inadvertently electrocute a utility lineman with our operating generator who might be working on the power lines after a storm. Only the panel in the basement is powered by the generator. This system prevents my generator from back feeding into the utility power distribution system.
The completed generator installation after the propane tank was set and lines run. Nice, neat and professional just the way I like it.
Below is an image of the generator itself before I installed the battery and fired her up. This is the re-designed 2013 17kw Generac model with the 992cc V-Twin industrial engine, pressurized lubrication system and electronic controllers. I programmed it to start up once a week and run for 12 minutes to exercise all functions except power transfer. It doesn't switch power over to the house when it is being exercised unless utility power is lost during the exercise.
The actual generator itself is the black cylinder in the bottom middle with the twin cylinder engine to the right. The electronic controller is located top right, intake and air cleaner middle top and the engine exhaust is isolated in the black boxed area to the left. This helps prevent the intake from sucking in its own exhaust. The generator has its own separate cooling air intake located in the back while the engine air intake enters from the right. All in all a real pretty machine.
I was genuinely surprised when, after replacing a low voltage fuse I blew with a replacement I had overnighted to me, she started up and everything worked perfectly. It just didn't feel quite right not having to troubleshoot some stupid mistake I had made. Maybe I'm getting better with old age or maybe I just had some dumb luck. Either way I'll take it.
A freebee that came with the generator that I haven't installed yet is a wireless "Mobile Link" that allows me to monitor the unit from my computer or smart phone. It keeps track of hours run, exercise cycles and maintenance performed which is invaluable if there is ever a (5 year) warranty claim. I can even make changes to many functions remotely. Boys and their toys.
We decided to go ahead and spend the extra money to have the gas company run a second propane line and regulator into the basement where it is stubbed in and capped off. This gives us an additional option when it comes to heating and cooking if we need it. Better to be prepared then to wish you had done so.
After taking delivery of the generator and carefully examining the transfer switch I realized I was at least two pay grades over my head with this project. Thankfully I stopped several times during the installation process and conducted more research before pushing on. I kept thinking about that old adage......"When you find yourself in a hole the first thing you do is stop digging". Words to the wise which I heeded.