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Thoughts on Backup Power (Generator) - Can your Family Operate it Without You?

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Citizen Zero:
When it comes to backup power generators I have found one thing to be pretty much inevitable, the power seems to go out more often when I am out of town on travel and it is my better half that actually needs to utilize it.

That being said, I have put a lot of effort into making a backup power system that is as reliable as it can be when it comes to commercial power failures. When it comes to the person that is the one that actually designs and installs the alternate power system for a dwelling THEY ARE THE ONLY ONES THAT ACTUALLY UNDERSTAND IT 100%. For those in this particular audience that I am assuming that it is someone in the household that has actually designed and implemented the backup power solution (though this may not be the case in all instances), while the actual operator may be a total novice when it comes to powering the dwelling during a commercial power failure.

What I am addressing here is the other members of the household that may need to operate the backup power system in your absence, yes it happens (in my case more often than not). When you have a backup generator installed it is very important that all eligible members of the family are familiar with its operation and house hookup to get the juice flowing again as well as safety information that will help them when something goes terribly sideways (aka. fire or any similar catastrophic failure of said generator – it happens).

Number one priority:
Create a checklist for the operation of the backup power source (aka. generator). This needs to include detailed start and shutdown procedures as well as power transfer procedures that the operator needs to follow, as well as warnings and caveats for things that may go wrong if proper procedures are not followed. A catastrophic failure due to operator error will literally leave you in the dark!

Number two Priority:
Document fuel transfer! This is EXTREMELY IMPORTANT for those that choose to run consumer grade generators. Cool down time and the like need to be observed per the manufactures recommendations (aka gasoline powered gen sets). Gasoline can be very volatile when introduced to an already warm/hot tank that was previously restricted by the fuel cap on the unit, the vapors present when refueling a warm (at temperature) gasoline generator are more than explosive!

Yeah, I know that this is sounding a bit corporate or military in nature, but processes and procedures that are well documented, and observed, by operators of the backup power solution are the key to success or total failure.

I am sure that most here have already assessed their needs, or are in the process of assessing their needs, when it comes to backup power. Planning ahead is essential whether you are planning for a short outage of a few days or an extended outage of months or more.

These thoughts have surfaced in light of me introducing an new generator to the household, the changes are night and day compared to the previous generator that we had.

As always, just my $.02
I may be wrong, or I may be right. Only time will tell.

I had similar concerns when I was deciding on a back-up generator. We had a 4 day power outage following an ice storm and was ill prepared at the time. Luckily, I was coming home from work at the time and was able to purchase a portable generator and hook it up to power necessary loads. After this episode, I started looking into options.
Due to my long commute and the real possibility of not being able to come home from work in the event of another power outage, I opted for a "Whole House" stand-by generator with Auto transfer switch for my solution. At the time, I even considered making hook-ups for the portable generator in the event the stand-by generator failed. Here's the way I looked at it. We live in central Illinois so winters are cold. To me, hot weather is less of an issue and though it might be uncomfortable, in most cases it wouldn't be life threatening. Extreme cold on the other hand can be. Add to that the real potential for frozen and broken water lines as a result made my choice for me.
Even though I am now retired and we are planning on building a new house, I will be installing a stand-by power supply. My desire would be using grid tied power inverters with a battery bank for emergency loads like heat and lights. I would have a generator with this set-up to power loads that the battery bank and inverters wouldn't be able to handle and for recharging the battery bank when needed. Ideally, the generator would be hooked up in a standby style that could be started automatically by a low battery condition or manually when larger loads are needed. I've researched open source electronics like Arduino, TI Lauchpad MSP, and/or Raspberry Pi for this purpose to greatly lower the price as well as the ability to easily customize it for my use/purpose.
At a minimum, I will have another stand-by generator with auto transfer switch capable of powering all my loads. I know cost is an issue, but having a generator that performs an automatic weekly test run as well as starts and auto transfers to power the house is worth it to me. I don't have to go out in the dark in nasty weather to connect up a generator and try to get it started. It also monitors for grid power return, auto transfers back, does a cool down cycle of the generator engine, and shuts itself off to a stand-by state.
My current one runs off of propane as I live in the country where natural gas isn't an option. My furnace and hot water heater are also propane. I opted for the 1,000 gallon propane tank which gives me ample supply of fuel in the event of a long outage. I also never let it get much below 50% full in the winter months for this reason.
I still wish I'd pre-installed all the wiring and connections in order to hook up the portable generator in the event the stand-by fails for any reason. This would make thinks much easier and safer should I not be around or able to perform this, if needed.

I travel a lot.  So it was important for us to automate the system.

We have a natural gas tied whole house generator set to automatically come on. It is matched to provide electricity to all house services including power for natural gas heat.  Our computer/phone network, camera system, alarm system (theft, fire, co sensors with connection via cellular), and ham station all have their own UPS battery backup.  This way they dont power down in time it takes generator to come online or if someone cuts both grid and generator power.

Our secondary backup is a digital generator which is what our RV uses for off-grid camping.  This is as simple as turning knobs and pressing buttons.  My wife has no difficulties with this.

Our third backup is a traditional analog, pull cord generator.  This is what we used for RV before the digital one.  It is hard for her to start/use.

Our fourth backup is inverters for our car and truck.  She knows how to hook these up.

Our fifth backup is our small scale portable solar and KTOR muscle power generators with usb battery packs in our bug out kits.  These are to keep phone and radios powered when on foot.  She knows how to operate these.

Just a quick update.
I awoke this morning to the sound of our generator running. It's minus 8 degrees outside and we are warm, toasty, and could even make coffee as our stand-by generator with auto transfer switch kicked in when the power went out.
Power has been off now for 3 hours. Normally not a big issue except for occasions like this with sub-zero temperatures outside. I feel sorry for those in the area with no power or heating system that doesn't require electricity as their only option would be to climb into a vehicle and run it for heat or go elsewhere. Add to that the real possibility of frozen and broken water lines if the power is out for an extended time.
This situation has got me thinking more about getting set up with other options in the event the big generator were to fail.

There are also propane generators which trigger on by themselves when the power has been out a certain amount of time.


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