Sunday, January 09, 2011

No Need To Be Cold When Power Is Off

Some years ago, like many others, an ice storm knocked out the power. It was cold, really cold and it felt even colder in the house with it's great insulation. Turns out the great insulation for holding heat in during winter and air conditioned air in during summer also does the same thing vice verse. So the house was acting like a refrigerator in winter with the power off. It was something I'd never thought of before. Now during that ice storm, my wife, toddler son and I piled on the blankets and huddled together on the sleeper sofa; the dogs joined us too. My mother in-law had a fireplace insert at her house and being independent was nice and warm but she had her own dog and ours would not get along with hers, so we stayed home. We cooked on a Coleman stove and made the best of it that year.
I enrolled in small engine school the next year and for two years I worked during the day, studied at night and took my courses. I had been messing with engines for many years but I had learned the hard way and out of necessity during that time, I wanted to learn more and have my own shop. At the end of the course we had to build a generator for a final test. We had to take the engine and the Generator head apart, make measurements, identify the parts and explain what they were for and functions, test the circuits reassemble it and it had to work. Even though my hard part was explaining why I was doing something on assembly a certain way I could show how it was done. I knew what I was doing but explaining it was harder for some reason. I got my master small engine degree.

 This is the engine I used in my small engine training. It sat for a couple of more years in my shop basically doing nothing but collecting dust. Then we had another good storm and we lost power. I dug it out, checked the oil, poured in gas and she fired up without much effort. We ran an extension cord to the house, attached an Olympia oil filled heater to it and warmed up our closed off living room. We even ran a small lamp and Television with it. When the basement sump filled up we unplugged the other items and plugged the sump pump into it then after the pumping was done we hooked the heater back up. We were doing alright and could even use the electric skillet to cook with, make coffee and pretty much laughed at the weather. We were good and snug. The only problem was having to go out every three to four hours, depending on generator load, to refill the fuel tank as it was small. Two o'clock in the morning rushing out to refill was a pain although minor considering. Neighbors made envious remarks about seeing our Televisions and lamps glow during the night. One night it ran out of fuel and not until we began getting cold did we wake up. The Generator had been off for several hours and was stone cold. This made for plenty of huffing and puffing to get it cranked back up. The oil had already become thick from the cold making pulling the starter a chore plus later observation revealed the carburetor sits below the intake valve which makes it tougher for cold fuel to get straight in the combustion chamber. Once warm it atomizes fine. Lesson learned.
 This is a shot of the Generator head itself. It gets the job done fairly well. I don't remember who manufactured it and even when the school received them and gave them to us there were no references as to the make. I do remember though that a flaw was in the PTO casing side where it mates to the engine so it had to be ground to fit. This one has two 110 outlets which is more than enough to run a couple of lights and a smaller television set. When running a Television or computer though you need to make sure and use a surge protector so as not to damage the circuitry. You can purchase a surge protector from one of the Big Box stores. The rating on this  unit is 2500/2200 watts.
 If you need for some reason to "boot" up your refrigerator everything else needs to be disconnected from the generator of this size. Refrigerators and freezers draw alot of current when their motors kick on and can overload the Generator, even so much as to cause a small five horse powered unit such as this to stall, plus it puts a strain on the engine. With everything else disconnected though the Refrigerators and freezers can be handled just fine. But again, you do not want a plugged in heater, Television and items which draw a lot of current at initial start up all plugged in at the same time. The generator should already be running and warm before connecting anything to it's outlets. You don't need everything trying to draw power while your trying to pull start the Generator engine. It's simply to much of a load. This worked fine for us for more than one winter power outage.
Later on we had the bright idea to have a pigtail put on our furnace. Although a furnace is a large unit the actual fan motor that pushes the warm air into your home does not draw much current.
This is a pigtail that we had installed by a competent licensed electrician on our Oil furnace. This way there is no way the utility company power can come on at the same time the generator is plugged up and running. If not wired correctly you could overload the wiring system causing a house fire. A very small generator can handle the load of just a furnace motor with very little trouble. So, the main concern in winter is being warm and a small simple generator is all you really need to keep from freezing. What struck me before doing this was that we had a full tank on heating oil outside but were freezing and miserable because we had no way to just simply run the furnace. That little furnace fan was all that was keeping us from being warm and fuzzy. If your warm everything else can be dealt with with relative ease. The ideal setup for us would be to have a five or ten horse powered diesel powered generator in that our heating oil tank would provide both the fuel for the generator and the furnace (Natural gas can be utilized the same way). As it stands we have to prepare by having gasoline stored in approved containers to keep the generator going. We've learned to stretch it by letting the house get warm then cut the generator off until the house temperature gets down to an agreed upon temperature, then we crank back up. At night we leave it running with a small lamp on and the furnace. The furnace only kicks on once in awhile so the load is nill.
What sucks though is I got this larger generator, which holds over six gallons of fuel, for a long run time and have not had to use it yet. My wifes uncle had a couple he used in his business and this one had quit running and he bought a new one to replace it. I was still doing small engine repair and he asked me to come back and get it while we were at his home for thanksgiving as it had been sitting in his shop for some time. I brought it home and in two hours from time of retrieving it, transporting it and working on it had it running strong. The safety low oil switch had gone bad. He told me to keep it as he no longer needed it because he was going to retire soon anyway. So now there is No getting up in the middle of the night or refilling each three hours or so. Ever since we've not had a power outage to put it to use. Last time we had a power outage for several days mother-in-law can and stayed with us and slept like a baby. Although she never said, we know she was happy not having to lug in wood to keep her fireplace going, and she had light to read by.


Allen Madding said...

Now that you have the furnace wired where you can run it off the generator, you are cooking with grease.

A good friend of mine went thru a long ice storm with power out for a weekend in the Charlotte area a few yrs back. I called to check on them and they were on day 2 with no power restoration promised for 5 more days. He said he had driven an hour every direction and couldn't find a generator. Being in Atlanta, I knew I could find one easily, so I picked up a generator, some wiring and set sail.

The generator he purchased and I delivered was heavy enough to run his gas furnace, so I killed the main on his panel and made up an easy to use pigtail. They kept it fueled and running for the entire week.

He too learned that without a heatshield on the carb, it would freeze up when exposed to cold temps. But wanting to keep the generator out of the garage or house, he fabricated a shield that keeps the carb warm off of the heat from the muffler.

I will always remember driving up to their house around midnight and seeing them huddled around a heater in the dark. The look on his wife's face when the furnace kicked on 20 minutes later was priceless.


WooleyBugger said...

That's a good thing you did to help out your friends. My folks live in Georgia enduring ice storms and power outtages and to this day still have not done this simple winter precaution.

That heat shield idea is good more to avoid vapor locking when hot though. If you look at the picture of the generator head, you can see the carburetor sitting below the engine and how the manifold is a long reach to the intake valve. Good for summer operation but not so much on cold wintry days. If we suspect any foul weather we put a light bulb against the Generator oil sump to keep it warm. That way if power goes off the unit is already warm.