Portable Generator

Before we moved to the mountain we were living in a townhouse shoehorned in among 74 others. Which meant I had neighbors twenty feet away to my left and to my right as well as across the parking lot in front. Thankfully I was backed up to a line of trees, which meant I had some view other than townhouses from my kitchen table.

While the utility power was pretty reliable I still needed something for when things went wrong and the grid went down. I purchased the Troy-Bilt portable generator pictured above back in 2006 at the local Lowe's for around $400 if memory serves me right. At the time I needed something and it was on sale so I grabbed it.

While it is only rated at 3250 continuous watts with barely any additional surge capacity it does have a decent 206 cc Briggs and Stratten engine with 9 foot pounds of torque, plenty of 120 volt outlets plus the all important 20 amp 240 outlet. A couple of nice features are the rubber flaps that cover the outlets when not in use, the fold down handle and the large gasoline storage tank on top that covers the entire unit, acting as a bit of a rain shield.

The only problem I had with it when purchased was that the clamp on the gas line into the carburetor was too large and didn't properly seal the line. I called Lowe's who directed me to Troy-Bilt who directed me to a local repair joint. I was able to call ahead and explain the problem so that when I brought it in they fixed it on the spot and billed Troy-Bilt.

Other than some nuts and bolts that vibrated loose over the years I've had no other problems at all. On anything that vibrated loose I made sure to use lock tight and be done with it forever. I change the oil after any extended use and once a year if it hasn't been used much. It always starts up on the first or second pull and is pretty quiet if you direct the muffler away from the house.

Speaking of noise, let me tell you a little secret about using a generator in a townhouse development. Nothing will irritate your immediate neighbors to the left and right more than hearing the generator all night but getting no use from it. So what I do every time the power goes out is to knock on the neighbor's door to the left and right and offer them an extension cord to run their refrigerator.

I carefully explain that I don't have much power to spare so they can only hook the refrigerator to the cord and maybe one light and a cell phone or laptop. I also explain that I might have to unplug them at any time for various reasons but will always try to give them some notice if I do. They're always so grateful that they will be able to save the food in the refrigerator that I never have problems with them pulling too much juice. Of course it would make more sense to have a larger generator that mine, say 6 or 7000 watts rather than my 3ooo.

Just make sure that after gassing the generator back up or starting it for the first time that you unplug everything before starting it. Then plug one cord/refrigerator in and wait 60 seconds, then plug the next one in and wait. This way the generator is not trying to handle the large initial electrical draw when the electric motor first starts up in the refrigerator. If you have three refrigerators hooked up at the same time when the generator comes back on it is very likely the generator will not handle the surge/draw well.

Now that we live on the mountain and I have installed a permanent standby generator, the portable is my backup just in case. If the power goes out for an extended period of time I will probably spell the standby generator from time to time and use the backup for several hours a day to keep the refrigerator and freezer running while the standby is off.

I would be doing this to conserve the propane for when we really need it since the standby generator uses 2 gals an hour at 50% power and we have approximately 200 gals of useable propane in the tank before it needs to be refilled, meaning it gets down to 20% full.

If you are looking for a portable generator I suggest you not do what I did and just run out and purchase on on sale. There are many great resources out there one web site I use regularly is PowerEquipmentDirect.com which sells many different name brands and not just generators but just about anything powered by engines and plenty of stuff that doesn't.

In particular I like their Buyer's Guides as well as the How To Library as a place to start for those who need a refresher course or are a complete novice and just starting out. If nothing else scroll down to the bottom of any web page on their site and sign up for their newsletter. At least once a week you will get an email from them outlining a different topic of discussion such as winterizing your equipment or how to use this or that. Yes, they are trying to sell you their equipment, but that doesn't negate the usefulness of their website as a place to start.

Please use the comment section below to give me your feedback, suggestions and comments. Let's all learn together.

Cognitive Dissonance

3 thoughts on “Portable Generator”

  1. Hi Cog. I share much of your philosophy, on so much, but I clearly have a different philosophy when it comes to energy efficiency and treading lightly on the earth. Assuming you cannot design your house from the ground up, at least install high efficiency appliances minimise energy consumption. You cannot believe just how much fun it is to see how low you can go in terms of fossil fuel consumption and still live comfortably. I consider it good practice, for when things turn south. As of course you know, nearly everything we buy, including LPG and gasoline, will become scarce, simply due to credit markets seizing up as the ponzi reaches the end game. Bio-diesel is easy to make, and the amount of methane you get from household and human waste is amazing. I have found it to be enough to cook your daily meals.
    Did you know your 17 kW permanent back-up gen set is like having 170 fit energy slaves on standby (assuming 100 w output per slave). The energy density of fossilised sunlight in hard to comprehend, e.g. a litre of gasoline contains around 100 man hours of work in it. The fossil fuel revolution, giving us the Anthropocene is the ONLY reason slavery was abolished, it simply became redundant.

    1. Kooka,

      I understood completely how big a generator I installed. Our intention when we first moved up here over four years ago was NOT to rough it, but attempt to carry on most of the comforts we left behind. We never wished to minimize our energy consumption, but rather transition over while we built our homestead.

      If the power went down for a long time (meaning everything has changed) the generator was never intended to run continuously, but rather for several hours at a time as we completed energy intensive activities such as pressure canning, which requires a very controllable heat source using commercial electric hot plates. And running the well pump, which will only draw 6 amps while running, requires 35 amps @240V of inrush current to start, which cannot be supplied by a small generator.

      The solar panels came later and are still being expanded. There are also many outbuildings on the property, including what amounts to another household living quarters. We expect if things get bad, some or all of our children (and their children) will come home. This will require more power than a small generator can provide.

      I appreciate what you are saying. But we never intended to try to find out how little electricity we can live on. But some day we may find out.

      Cognitive Dissonance

  2. Thanks for the responses Cog. You are right, of course you know, the worst preachers are ex-addicts. I was an energy addict. I had a few million frequent flyer miles, constantly flying business to NYC in my former bankster life. I am clearly now after some kind of redemption, and leaving the system for me, was as much about stopping my insatiable appetite for consuming energy – and everything else for that matter. I realise if I stopped using fossil fuels today, I could never make up for my former profligacy. But as I mentioned, I never knew how much fun it could be to go close to zero – when you are a nutty inventor at heart.

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