Fifteen years or so ago, my Father-In-Law acquired a portable, 5000 watt generator for use in an emergency. Stored in his garage, its presence reminded me that my family would be better off in an emergency if we had a backup power generator. But, whenever the lights go out at my house, the darkness has never been long enough that I kicked myself for not having an alternate power source. However, me kicking myself and my wife wanting to kick me are two separate discussions, and last year a minor (to me) incident occurred during bad weather at our house that found us in the Airstream watching The Weather Channel while the mighty Suburban idled to keep my Overlander’s battery ready to handle both the furnace cycling, and the TV briefing us on current conditions. So I started casually monitoring the Internet’s “emergency power” threads.
A few months ago, Kim & I drove over to see a new workshop her dad was building. As he was building the structure on a lot out in the county, he chose to use a generator during construction instead of having temporary power run to the site. Oddly, he was using a new generator instead of the one I was familiar with. Come to find out, he hadn’t started the old one in so long that it was too gummed up to function. Unable to get it running, he had left in a corner of the new structure & opted to buy a new one.
One hobby that I used to really enjoy is small engine repair, and I asked if I could buy the old generator from him. The generator’s acquisition would have been perfect – a fun project for me and a low-cost solution to my emergency power needs. Unfortunately, Kim’s dad had already promised the generator to one of his nephews. But, the experience jump-started me into resolving my lack-of-emergency-power situation.
There are many things to consider when selecting a generator. I boiled my major decisions down to two: Maximum power required in a prolonged emergency, and noise level. After careful consideration & painstaking research, I decided that our emergency abode would be the Airstream serviced by a Honda EU2000i Companion for the following reasons:
· It’s quiet – The one Kim’s dad had was LOUD!
· A 2000 watt generator is strong enough to run a small space heater in the Airstream if we run out of propane.
· The Honda generator is quiet.
· This generator will run up to 15 hours on one gallon of gas.
· It’s quiet.
· This particular generator has the parallel kit built in
o Add another EU2000i and the Airstream’s air conditioner will work should we ever boondock for pleasure.
· The Honda’s inverter technology means clean power to the Airstream.
· It’s quiet.
So, I bought a new Honda EU2000i Companion and an adapter to allow my Airstream to plug directly into it. Number 1 son & I slept in the Airstream the following night with outside temperatures dipping into the lower 40s. The generator did a fine job of powering the converter, space heater, and LCD TV. Life was good. I could now rest easier at night knowing that, in an emergency, a less-than-50-pound generator could be toted a short distance from storage, and placed into operation to keep my family comfortable. Kim smiled & nodded a lot as I patted myself on the back about my emergency preparedness.
No more than a month after my thousand dollar purchase, Kim’s folks stopped by the house to visit. At one point, her dad asked me if I still wanted his old generator as Eddie appeared to have lost interest in coming over to get it. I immediately said “Yes” because the challenge of getting it running was somewhat akin to the mating instinct of the long-horned elk I used to see in Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom. As an unexpected bonus, Kim was suspiciously receptive to the idea. Did you notice that the title to this page is plural?
The next day, all four of us
headed out after a big rain to claim my next project. Four-wheel-drive-high with no winch was all
my truck needed, but I left an
Repairs were relatively cheap and easy, and the generator roared back into service with gusto after its 15 year hiatus. Come to find out, Kim had been paying attention when I said this type of generator produces 220 vac, the type of voltage needed to run our house’s natural gas furnace’s blower motor. While she really likes my Airstream, the possibility of lounging on our queen-size bed watching the 32-inch LCD TV in a bad situation had a stronger appeal.
Seeing the calm look on her face as she watched the generator run, I shouted, over the din, that a transfer switch & many dollars worth of additional wiring would be required to allow the generator to interface with house wiring. After seeing the, “…and what is your point?” look on her face, I realized the project had been financially green-lighted.
Typically, a backup generator connects to select house wiring circuits by means of transfer switches. The generator is NOT hooked directly to the house’s incoming power line for many reasons, the main one being shock hazard to the Utility Company’s lineman who may be up in a bucket lift trying to fix the reason the power went out in the first place. After researching the myriad of transfer switch choices available, and considering how infrequently (if ever) the generator would be used, I opted for a very simple, two-circuit, outdoor transfer switch (shown at right guarded by Cookie).
When switched, the generator will power the furnace and a couple of dedicated, 20-amp outlets in the centrally-located laundry room. The plan is to run extension cords from the outlets to the refrigerator, freezer, TV, or whatever we think needs electricity during an unplanned power outage.
Although completely checked out, the new system has not, as yet, been called upon to help us out in bad weather. Looking into my crystal ball, I foresee that happening when there is a foot of snow on the ground at below-zero temperatures, and “starting the generator every so often” has dropped off my to-do list. But, for now, we’re ready!
Most of my fun on this project came from repairing & load testing the big generator, and figuring out what gear was needed to hook the generator up to the house. Feel free to email me with any technical questions. If there’s enough interest, I will build another web page full of dry, technical detail.