Keeping the Lights on – Part 3 Power distribution

In my first two posts on “Keeping the lights on” I talked about sizing and selecting a generator. Now that you (and I) have a running generator, let’s talk for a moment about how to use it for powering your home. For the purposes of this discussion, we need to keep a couple things in mind (yes this is my disclaimer).

– First of all, you’re dealing with electricity here. If you don’t feel comfortable working with electricity, DON’T! If you’re uncomfortable working on this type of project you’re probably better deferring to someone who is a trained electrician and has the tools, knowledge and experience necessary to do this type of project safely.

– Secondly, even if you are comfortable working with electricity, BE CAREFUL. Every year more people are killed and injured by 120 volt power than any other type of electricity. I attribute this to both a lack of working knowledge, and to carelessness.

– Third, please, Please PLEASE, DO NOT run you generator in the house. Evey year I hear a stories about someone doing this or leaving it running in their garage with the door closed resulting in them and their family dying from carbon monoxide poisoning. Doing this is tantamount to sitting in your car in the garage with the engine running, windows down, and the garage door closed. It can kill you, and you will never see it coming. You will go to sleep and never awaken. Keep your generator outside, or in an outbuilding and ensure that you have plenty of ventilation.

– And finally, I am not a certified electrician, and while I will share with you how I have my system set up, I am neither advising or encouraging you to do likewise. Be careful people. The last thing you need is to turn an “emergency” situation into a tragedy by carelessness or neglect.

Alright now that the legal disclaimers are taken care of, let’s get the power back on. There are several different approaches to providing power to your home in the case of an emergency. These range from the very simple and automatic (ATS and a fully automated home backup generator system) to the crude but effective, albeit less convenient, approach of simply running a cord from the generator into your house.

Obviously the most simple approach to take is to power up the generator, plug in an extension cord or two and then stretch the cord into the house, plug in whatever, and go. The problem with this is that your overhead lights, well pump if you are on a well, hot water tank, etc won’t work. The solution to this inconvenience it so use a method called “back feeding”. What this entails is essentially disconnecting your home from street power and then replacing that with power from your generator. This sounds like a complicated solution, but chances are pretty good that you already have most of the necessary pieces of equipment in place.

To back feed your home with emergency power you need to have a basic understanding of how your home’s electrical system works. Power comes into your home from the street either overhead or underground, then passes through the electric company’s meter. After leaving the meter, the power comes into your home’s electrical system. Most homes these days have a circuit breaker box (not a fuse box) so that is the design we will discuss.

A fairly standard American circuit breaker pan...

Image via Wikipedia

After passing through the meter the electrical power for your home enters your breaker box and goes to your Main Breaker or Service Disconnect. This is typically a large breaker at the very top or bottom of your panel and it always has the largest amperage rating of any of the circuit breakers in your panel. This Main Breaker or Service Disconnect serves as the master overload protection for your home, as well as your main means of disconnecting your home from street power. Turning off “the Main”, will shut down (disconnect from street power) the whole house. Under typical operation, the power leaves the main breaker and flows through the panel through a system of metallic conductors called bus bars, then into your individual circuit breakers and out into your branch circuit wiring to the lights and devices in your home. Incoming power into your home is made up of 2 separate 120 volt feeds (often referred to as “legs”), a “Neutral” conductor that serves as a return path for voltage from a device and a “Ground” conductor for added safety against shock. The 2 separate legs of power alternate their positions in your breaker box so that every other breaker on either side of the box is on a different leg. Panels are typically labeled with numbers, odd numbers on the left, even numbers on the right. This being the case, as you look at the breakers in the breaker box, circuits 1 and 3 are on different “legs” but 1 and 5 would be on the same leg. Also, the breakers directly across from each other (1 and 2 for instance) are typically on the same power “leg”.  Understanding this design is important so you know how your system is working when you connect your system to emergency power especially if your generator is a 120 volt output only and does not supply a 240 volt output with two “legs” or circuits of power. Even if your generator only produces one hot “leg (120V) you can power the essentials by having the breakers for your essential appliances moved to the same “leg” of power in the panel. This can be done by moving the breakers around in the box if necessary. To back feed your home’s system, you simply turn off the main breaker (Service Disconnect), connect your generator to one of your home’s electrical outlets and let the power flow through your existing wiring. Simple enough right?!

Let’s take a closer look. The first thing to decide is where you will be connecting your generator to your home’s electrical wiring. Depending on the output of your generator (in terms of voltage and amperage) you may be limited to the number of places where you can make this connection safely. An electric dryer outlet, an electric range (stove) connection, or a connection for a Welder or other large 240V appliance is a great place to back feed your system. In my case my generator has a 30 amp, 240 volt receptacle on the side of the generator, so I need to match that to a minimum of another 30A 240V receptacle in my house. Now understand that the actual plugs themselves are not likely to match physically, but as long as the voltage and amperage ratings match you are in good shape. The exception to this rule is that if you would happen not to have a 30 amp outlet in your HOME but you had a 40 or 50 amp outlet that would be an acceptable alternative. You can safely feed your generator’s 30 amps of power into a 40 or 50 amp circuit in your home, but do not go the other direction.  DO NOT attempt to feed your generator into a circuit with a LOWER voltage or amperage rating than the rated output of the generator. In my case, here are a couple pictures of the receptacles on my generator and my home (actually my shop) wiring. In my case I decided to feed the power back to my house from the welder receptacle in my shop. This would allow me to store the generator in the shop and use it there without having to move the genset to the house. This would also allow me to run the genset in the shop in case of inclement weather without running the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning.

Generator Receptacle (this is of the “twist lock” variety):


Welder receptacle in my shop:

Now that we have the design portion of the solution out of the way, let’s get the tools out and get our hands dirty. After determining the type of cord ends required for the installation, the next step in back feeding you wiring is to make the cord. In most cases, you will need 2 male cord ends, one for the receptacle on your generator and one for the receptacle in your home wiring system. In my case one end needed to be a 30A 120/250V 4 prong twist lock male cord end, and the other needed to be a 3 prong 30A 12/240V angled prong male cord end. I debated for a while about what to use for the cord, but I discovered a used heavy duty extension cord that I had forgotten I had. It was slated for disposal on a job site I was on due to having a nick in the insulation and a couple of bad cord ends. It was, to my surprise a 10ga 3 conductor cord, which was heavy enough to carry the load I was applying. A note here about wire gauge is to be sure that you are using a large enough cord to carry the loads you are intending to support. Click Here for a link to a handy calculator to aid in the selection of the proper size cord. The cord should be sized for the full output capacity of your generator. Be sure to account for the length of the cord, since it can drastically impact the size of the wire required. For my application, the calculator says that I am fine to use my #10 wire for a 30 amp load at 240 volts over a distance of 75 feet. You may wonder what I did for the 4th prong of the plug on the generator. This was intended to be the ground plug, but since my outlet in the wall did not have a ground, it would not have done anything anyway. Ideally, if I were to install a dedicated receptacle for the use of this generator, which I may do at some point, it would have all 4 conductors (2 hot legs, 1 neutral and the ground). The reality of it is that the generator is not “generating” a ground anyway, so in my mind, grounding the generator to the earth using a ground wire and rod, or similar system is a sufficient safety measure to prevent electrical shock.

The finished cord ended up looking something like this:

Now that the cord has been constructed it is time to try it out. This is where it important to ensure that you understand the electrical design we went over above. Failure to understand the design and take the proper approach in testing and using this system can be a dangerous proposition. Let me outline the steps that I used to test my system.

1- Because I didn’t want to fumble around in the dark any more than necessary, I started the generator with the shop lights on with street power.

2- Turn off the street power (in this case the power being fed to the shop from the house) by turning off the Main Breaker (Service Disconnect) in the breaker box.

3- Turn off the branch circuit for the plug that you are connecting to

4-Plug the cord into the receptacle in the wall (in my case the welder receptacle)

5-Plug the cord into the receptacle in the generator (note I didn’t do this first because if I did the exposed prongs on the other end of the cord could be “hot” with live electricity).

6- Switch on the 240V output of the generator.

7- Switch on the breaker for the receptacle you’re plugged into (again, in my case the welder circuit).

8- Bask in the glow of your off grid lighting and enjoy the satisfaction of knowing that you can generate your own electricity.

At this point you may notice that your lights are not as bright or even, especially if you are using fluorescent lighting like I am. This is mostly due to the fact that your inexpensive power generation system does not produce as “clean” a power as the multi-billion dollar system that the power company has designed and installed. This is to be expected and is nothing that you have done wrong.

Now while enjoying the comfort of your home brewed electrical energy, you may wonder, “How will I know if the street power comes back on?”, and this is a legitimate question. One way would be to watch for the lights to once again come on at the neighbors houses, or for the street lights to come back on. But if you live in a rural area like I do, and or your neighbors have their own generators, this won’t work. One way would be to have a qualified electrician install a small light onto the incoming power BEFORE your service disconnect. This is a little iffy by the electrical code since the circuit is unprotected, but you could install an inline fuse if you’re really concerned about it. Explain to the nice electrician what you’re trying to accomplish and they are likely to understand and help you to do this safely. One thing is for sure though, you don’t want your Main Breaker (Service Disconnect) turned on and your generator running when the power comes back on. The sparks will fly and you will let the smoke out of your generator. Putting the smoke back in the generator is an expensive proposition.

Once the commercial power comes back on, to transition back to street power you would use the following methods (essentially the reverse order of the process above):

1- Switch off the circuit breaker for the receptacle the generator is plugged into.

2- Switch off the generator’s electrical output (it’s not a bad idea to allow the generator to continue to run to cool itself down during the remainder of this process).

3- Unplug the the electrical cord from the generator’s receptacle.

4- Unplug the cord from the receptacle in the wall.

5- Turn the circuit breaker for the receptacle in the wall back on.

6- Turn on the Main Breaker or Service Disconnect in your panel.

7- Shut down the generator now that it has had a few moments to sufficiently cool itself.

This has been a bit of a lengthy post, but hopefully you can see from this that it is doable to use your home’s electrical system to distribute the power from your home generator in the event of an emergency.

Again, I am all about the DIY mentality, but if you are uncomfortable tackling an electrical project of this scale, it is best to consult the advice and expertise of a professional. When safety is on the line, it pays to have some qualified help.

Happy Generating ’til next time.



A beep in the night — Part 2

When last we saw our Stainless Steel, groundwater pumping hero he was resting quietly in his own storage tub. Let’s see what adventure awaits our hero in this installment of “A beep in the night”.

I don’t remember the events of the afternoon, as I am sure they paled in comparison to the mechanical symphony of creativity and forethought that was unfurled during nap time, but as all Saturdays do, this one came quickly to an end. Kids in bed, and off to dreamland I went as well, resting assured in the new found comfort of knowing that I was a rich man in terms of sump pump possession.

My slumber was rudely interrupted about 0200 hours when I awoke to hear a peculiar beeping sound emanating from somewhere within the premises. It wasn’t loud enough to be my alarm clock, and it had better not be going off at this hour anyway. It kept beeping so it wasn’t the coffee maker turning itself off after someone absentmindedly left it on. What was that sound? So I rolled out bed with a grumpiness that only 2 am and an empty bed affords, donned the house shoes (what!? All guys wear house shoes right!?), grabbed the trusty flashlight that resides on my dresser and headed down the stairs. It wasn’t coming from the main level. It sounded decidedly lower in elevation that that, so down to the finished portion of the lower level I went. Family room, nope, quiet. Utility room, getting warmer, but still not there. Aha! Crawl space it is. I opened the doors to the crawl space and to my surprise was greeted by about 2″ of water all over the entire crawl space floor. What the….!! So kicking off my house shoes, removing my socks, and rolling up the pant legs of my pajamas…. I fetched the tote with the sump pump in it, grabbed the end of the hose from the top of the plastic tote, dragged it to the nearest window, tossed it outside, pulled the pump from the tote, dropped it into the basin, plugged in the pump and once again, ‘VOILA! Pumping was able to commence within minutes of the need arising. The pump ran for close to 40 minutes before I was content that the crawl space was going to dry out alright and went back to bed. Luckily, earlier that winter we had the forethought to put everything up on used pallets in the crawl space so all that got wet was one or two boxes that were destined for a yard sale or thrift store near you.

The pump stayed in that basin for another 2 days until it was dry enough and the water was flowing slowly enough into the basin that I could investigate the cause of the issues with the permanently installed sump pumps in the crawl space. Apparently the beeping sound I had heard was the low battery alarm on the battery backup sump pump sounding because the gel cell battery in the unit’s battery box was shot and the pump was tying to run, but could not. The secondary sump pump was ruined, a hole rusted in the side of the case (I guess they should have bought a stainless steel model, huh!?). The primary pump a massive 1 HP model was, for some reason running, but not pumping anything. After removing the non-working battery backup and secondary pump, I was able to remove the primary pump and discovered a plastic square about 3″ by 3″ sitting directly below its inlet. As soon as the pump switched on, the hydraulic pressure would suck the peculiar square of plastic up against the bottom of the pump, effectively sealing the inlet and preventing the pump from, well, pumping anything. Add to that the fact that there seemed to be a strange fibrous material in the pump,  floating around the sump basin and on the floor around the crawl space and I slowly began to piece together my theory of what had happened.

The following day, I removed the cover from my in ground sump pump testing facility in the shop and discovered that it was EMPTY. Completely empty. Don’t get me wrong, it was still wet. Water could be seen weeping in through the block walls, but it was running across the floor and draining into, yup, you guessed it, the 4″ drainage tile.

At first I thought that the fibrous stuff I was seeing laying around was the fur of a long decomposed varmint of some variation. You see the previous owners had told us during our closing process that they had seen a rat in the house. This led to the wife and kids abandoning ship and literally moving out of the house to stay with relatives until the unwelcome intruder was euthanized (no joke, here). This, in turn, led to the father doing whatever he could possibly conceive in order to prevent the entry of said pest to the premises. He told me that he suspected that there was a 4″ drainage tile that led from the service pit in the shop and into the sump basin in the crawl space. Stated that he surmised that the rodent was using this as a means of entry to the dwelling, so he had “blocked” the tile. I naively assumed when we moved in that the cinder block that was placed against the opening of the tile in the service pit and carefully braced in place with a piece of lumber was the “block” to which he was referring. The fact that repeated efforts in dryer months to open the drain in the service pit had proven unsuccessful in opening it, also led me to believe that the rodent may have been trapped inside the drain and been sent to an untimely watery grave, thus clogging the pathway for drainage. All assumptions were close to the truth, but none was what I now consider to have been the case.

In my disgust (it IS after all rather disgusting when you suspect that you’re cleaning up the decomposed remains of a rodent from the continually wet sump basin in your crawlspace), prior to returning the permanent sump pump to its place, I had scooped the sand, silt and trash out of the basin and thrown it into a plastic bucket. The strange “fur” was thrown in the same bucket as was the peculiar plastic square that had served so effectively as a flapper valve on the inlet of my sump pump. All these things were taken out of the crawlspace together in the bucket and placed in my shop, still in the bucket. A few days or maybe a week later, after the disgust of the whole ordeal had faded to tolerable levels, I returned to find the bucket had dried out sufficiently to discard of the contents. The plastic square, it occurred to me, looked exactly like the black plastic “glue” traps that I have seen used for rodent removal. And that “fur”, after it dried had taken on a strange pink appearance. At this point I was starting to feel like a forensic investigator from CSI. Trying to piece together the “who done it” of my little flood. Further sifting through the debris in the bucket revealed the presence of some thick paper that was brown on one side, black on the other and had some of that peculiar pink “fur” on it. It was one of those light bulb moments. An epiphany in fact.

Apparently a few of my assumptions had been flawed. Here is what I now surmise to have occurred prior to that fateful day.

The previous paternal occupant of my property, having been continually thwarted by the rodent that had been visiting his dwelling had “blocked” the drainage tile leading from the pit in the shop to the sump basin. I had assumed that this was done with the block that was placed over the tile in the shop, but apparently this assumption had done what many assumptions do and made a, um, donkey’s hind end out of me. The fibrous pink “fur” I was seeing was, I now believe a ball of fiberglass insulation that had been shoved into the drainage tile to deny entrance to the unwanted pest. The plastic pad, was in fact a glue trap, undoubtedly set by the same wily, increasingly annoyed and lonely homeowner in an attempt to catch the intruder. When I had pumped the water out of the pit, I had loosened the clog, but not dislodged it. The emptying and refilling motion of the water being removed from the pit acting like a big plunger on clog in the tile.  As the pit refilled the hydraulic pressure in the drain increased until the clog could no longer hold back the water. The “blockage” was ejected from the tile into the sump basin in my crawl space, and was then followed by somewhere close to 800 gallons of cold and muddy ground water.  The sump pump (even a 1 HP model) never would have kept up with the water rushing in through a 4″ tile, but it was clogged with the Pink Panther’s favorite weather proofing and one exceedingly well placed “humane” rodent trap. Maybe if the pump had been constructed from some corrosion resistant alloy of steel it had, but ….nah, probably not, never mind.

The take away from this mildly dramatic and highly sarcastic story is as follows.

-Know the layout and design of your drainage system. You never know what surprises may await you if you aren’t aware of their design.

-Use the right materials for the job. Fiberglass insulation, as it turn out is a great way to clog a drainage tile, and a stainless steel bodied sump pump will not rust through (at least not as quickly) as will a pump whose body is constructed from mild steel.

-Check and properly maintain the batteries in your battery backup appliances. Those battery backup sump pumps, garage door openers and UPS systems on your computer are only as good as the batteries in them.

-Test your backup systems regularly. At the time that this occurred I wasn’t aware that there were three pumps in that basin, let alone that two of the three were not functioning.

-Be prepared for the unexpected. Look at your home and assess your biggest weaknesses and do what you can to prepare to meet those needs, should an emergency arise.

-Materials stored in basements or crawl spaces should be elevated above the floor to prevent them from being damaged by moisture and water. Skids (pallets as many call them) are an easy way to accomplish this.

In my case, it was a really good thing that I had prepared for the failure of a sump pump (even if it was only 12 hours before I ended up needing it) and that the materials in my crawl space were elevated above the floor 6″ or so. Since then I have also bought a couple inexpensive “Leak frog” water alarms. These are just one type of battery powered alarms that go off at the presence of water and are enough to alert you to a problem. Had the battery in my backup sump pump not been bad, I would not have discovered my water problem until it had risen to a level high enough to flood the finished part of my lower level.

Looking back now, I can see many places where it is apparent that I wasn’t as smart as I thought I was (never mind the previous owner, we’re not going to talk about him right now…). A little bit of my planning payed off and saved me from a situation that was, at least in part, created by my own negligence and lack of understanding of my home’s drainage systems. Going forward I still have some work to do to improve the design and eliminate some of the liability of the current design from my property. One thing is for sure. I’m sure glad that sump pump is stainless steel! SHINY!

A beep in the night – Part 1

My recent post on prepping and my approach to it has gotten me started thinking once more about some things that have happened in the past year or so that have served to reinforce my sense of personal responsibility to be prepared. One such story, I feel is worth sharing. Hopefully you will enjoy it and allow it to motivate you to do what you need to do to be prepared for come what may. I know it still serves as a vivid reminder in my own mind of how important this thought process is.

My family and I moved into our current home in January of 2010. We had purchased the house and property knowing that flooding as a result of storm runoff had been a problem in the past. The previous owner had taken some steps to alleviate this risk and we felt comfortable with the status of the home’s drainage systems. The property is shielded from runoff by an earthen dam of sorts that diverts storm water runoff from the farm fields behind us and into a deep ditch on the road adjacent to our property. The home also has a working set of footer drains that drain into two separate sump basins that house a variety of sump pumps. One in the front (finished) portion of our lower level, and one in the unfinished crawlspace below the middle level of our tri-level home. The pump basin in the rear of the crawlspace portion of the house had not one, not two, but three sump pumps in a rather large basin. Two of the pumps were 120V plug in type units and one was a battery backup 12V unit that was designed to run for a while if the power was out. It didn’t take us long after moving in that we noticed these pumps in both basins could be heard running fairly frequently in the wet springtime months and during extended periods of rain in the summer or fall. It was at the realization of just how frequently these pumps were running that my wife and I began to discuss what an important role these systems made in keeping our home dry. It was as a result of this conversation that led us to the decision that it would probably be prudent of us to have a spare pump on hand in case one of them failed. This conversation happened in the time frame of the fall of 2010.

Things being what they are financially around our house (we are raising a family of 5 on one income) the spare pump never seemed a more pressing need than shoes for the kids, food for the table, or even a brief summertime camping mini-vacation. So, as do so many good intentions,  the spare pump got put on the back burner. Enter the spring of 2011. 2011 would end as the wettest year in Ohio history and it began with a mild wet winter, followed by an early and VERY wet spring. Several of our neighbors had issues with flooding and our yard was as soggy as a Louisiana bayou. There were areas of standing water in the front yard for weeks on end. The automotive service pit in my shop turned into a nice (albeit dirty) candidate for an in ground hot tub. It was, in fact holding about 48″ of water in a pit that is about 36″ wide and 110″ long. Despite the fact that we could clearly see a 4″ drainage tile that was supposed to evacuate the water form this pit, it was holding a LOT of water. Repeated attempts to clear this drain had proven unsuccessful, so the pit became a water feature whenever it rained. The sump pumps, however, just kept on doing their job and the house was nice and dry.

Well with February typically comes the annual process of seeing how much of our hard earned money Uncle Sam has elected to allow us to retain, and we in recent years have been blessed to be on the receiving end of the deal and get a decent tax return. Call it a benefit of living frugally on one income, or call it the blessing of the compound child tax credit (honest kids, we didn’t just have you for the tax write-off, although it is handy….). IN 2011 we were once again the recipients of a pretty decent tax return. This money is typically funneled into larger scale home improvement projects or is applied directly towards debt elimination, but this year there was a little money allotted for a sump pump. As luck would have it, the weather worsened and minor flooding struck a lot of neighboring communities, prompting an full out run on sump pumps at all the local outlets. So it was with our pumps happily spinning away and our tax return dollars in hand that we sat and waited for the local home improvement stores to re-stock with pumps.

One weekend shortly thereafter, my wife was out of town and the kids and I were faced with the prospect of how to spend our Saturday. After breakfast we decided to run some errands and stop by the big, blue home center to see if they had received their shipment of a certain sump pump that I had decided upon. Once again, as my luck would have it, they didn’t have the one I wanted. So with three kids quickly growing increasingly impatient with their father’s unreasonable levels of sump pump preoccupation, I selected one that was a bit bigger than the one I had initially decided upon. It, of course, cost a bit more but was a more durable pump, read: Stainless Steel (have I ever told you what a sucker I am for stainless steel?) . It also carried a lifetime warranty, so I felt comfortable spending the extra capital for my little investment. As I was thinking about the process of putting this pump into service, I made a crucial decision. I decided that in the event that the pump should be needed when I was at work or for some other reason absent from my household, that it would be easier and faster for my wife to put the pump into service if it had a flexible discharge line attached to it (smart, right!! I know! And I though of it all by myself!). So I purchased two sections of hose and the necessary couplings and hardware to put them all together into one section that would be more than long enough to reach either sump basin and stretch out a window into the yard.

Now the kids are getting peeved. “Hose, and fittings too Dad!? C’mon man! It’s almost lunch time now!” Finally we made our exodus and headed home to a gourmet lunch of only the finest peanut butter graced beautifully with strawberry freezer jam so red it makes Matadors angry. Pretzels on the side, only the finest di-hydrogen monoxide beverages, and the feast was served. Oh, yeah! That’s how dad rolls when mom’s not around. After lunch was finished and those non-sump pump appreciating kids were down for a nap (I don’t get why they don’t see them merit. It’s STAINLESS STEEL for Pete’s sake!) I headed to the shop to unfurl my creation. Sump pump, connector and Stainless Steel hose clamp, hose, coupling (Secured by what else? Two stainless steel hose clamps), and another section of hose. It was a beautiful sight. I plugged it in, removed the cover from my in-floor water feature and dropped it into my conveniently placed sump pump testing chamber (know to the untrained eye as a flooded service pit). It worked marvelously! It pumped for about an hour and completely drained the pit –No, I mean — testing chamber. This chamber was the self regenerating type that would quickly refill itself from the groundwater, but the pump worked like a charm.

A pump of this caliber demands a proper storage system, so a suitable round plastic tub was selected from my plevy of surplus storage containers . I placed the pump in the bottom of the tub, neatly coiled the hose and cord on top of the pump, carried it in the house and placed it in the crawl space for safe keeping. “There” I thought “that should really make it easy for my wife to use”. All that would be needed would be to grab the end of the hose from the top of the plastic tote, drag it to the nearest window, toss it outside, pull the pump from the tote, drop it into the basin, plug in the pump and ‘VOILA! Pumping should be able to commence within minutes of the need arising. It was probably about 2:00 in the afternoon.

Tune in again next time for the exciting conclusion of our story “A beep in the night”

To be continued….

My approach to the “prepper” mentality

I tend to look at things a bit differently than a lot of people. I was the kid that always had a Swiss Army knife in his pocket. I was never a Boyscout, but I may have missed my calling in that regard. I was always trying to be prepared, come what may. In fact the picture above is of the very knife that is riding in my right hip pocket as I write this post. To this day I find myself carrying a messenger bag (some call it my “Murse” ie Man Purse) with me everywhere I go. I do this not to make a fashion statement, in fact if anything it probably states that I have NO fashion, but because I like having everything I need with me. Sunglasses, cell phone charger,a portable lighter even though I don’t smoke, even a deck of cards, I have everything in that bag. I rest assured that I have all the necessary items with me for whatever may arise. Maybe it i because I watched one too many episodes of MacGuyver as a kid, maybe I am paranoid, but I like being prepared. If I can carry it easily and I see a practical application for it, most likely it is in my bag.

And that carries over into my take on disaster preparedness as well. I tend to shy away from the impractical, but if I can see a practical application for something and I can sustain it, I try to be prepared. Does this mean that I carry a bottle of activated charcoal in my bag in case of accidental poisoning, no. But does it mean that I carry a small bottle of ibuprofen, yes I do. For me to see something to make it into my bag it must meet two criteria: Practicality, and Portability.Without keeping these criteria in mind, I would soon be wheeling around an impractically large, carry on sized tote full of my “practical” items.

By the same token I apply a similar thought process to the things that I keep on hand at home. Here is how I see it. In order for something to appeal to me as a preparedness item it must be practical whether a disaster scenario happens or not. I can’t afford financially or in terms of practicality to have a shelf full or MRE‘s laying around “just in case”. It seems to me to large a financial investment and too small a likelihood that I will need them for me to justify it. What we do as a family, however, is to can and freeze many things that we either buy in bulk, or raise in our garden in the summer time. We recently split a side of beef with another family and put that into the freezer, we still have frozen fruit and vegetables from this past summer. These are items that we will use anyway, but in the case that something would happen to disrupt our food supply chain, we would have food for at least the foreseeable future. It is a balance of the financial cost of having something and the practicality of seeing it as useful. I have a couple of canvas military surplus water containers stored in my shop. I have no idea what I would use them for, but they were free, so the practicality doesn’t have to outweigh a heavy financial cost, so they are just hanging up there in my loft. It is the same economy of calculations that allow me to carry the cigarette lighter in my Murse when I don’t smoke. It takes up so little space that it doesn’t need to have a highly likely use.

This approach to calculating the usefulness of something as it relates to its cost (in financial or other terms) does eventually break down though. There is a process of risk assessment that is referred to as the probability versus impact or the magnitude of the loss (PvI or L) method. It is the process by which you look at the probability of something and you weigh it against the impact it would have when you are assessing a risk. Home owners insurance is a very good example. Outside of the fact that most people are required to carry property insurance by the bank to which they p[ay their mortgage, the decision process would go something like this. The probability that my house would catch on fire, be destroyed by a storm is relatively low (knock on wood). But the potential impact or magnitude of that loss could be catastrophic to my family. For that reason, because the magnitude is so great I would choose to purchase home owners insurance. The potential impact of the disaster is so great and so potentially devastating that no matter how remote the chance may be that it would happen, I would be considered a fool not to be prepared to meet that challenge.

This is where this process becomes somewhat personal and rather subjective. It takes this turn because it is dependent upon each one to assess their own risk and determine whether it justifies the “cost” of preparedness. I know it is pretty likely that at some point the power will go out at my house. For that reason I have a flashlight in my bedroom, a lantern in the family room, and I am working on a system of backup power. I have weighed the probability and the impact and decided that they merit the cost of being prepared to meet that challenge. In the case of MRE’s again, I have weighed the probability that I will need them against the cost of that step of preparedness and in my case I have decided that they do not justify the expenditure. I would hate to be unprepared for an emergency that may arise and wish that I had done more to prepare to meet an unexpected circumstance. The thought that I could fail to prepare my family for a potentially devastating disaster weighs heavily upon the heart of this father and husband. By the same token, I don’t want to look back and wish that I hadn’t spent so much time, effort, and money on being prepared for a disaster that never arises. I cannot bear the thought of having “cost” my family so much to prepare for something that never happened. It is a delicate balance to maintain and as much as possible I believe it needs to be a decision that is discussed and agreed upon by the family. I for one don’t want to bear the consequence alone for either extreme of this balance, so my wife and I discuss the risks, impact, and costs associated with these kinds of decisions.

It is this kind of approach to the “prepper” mentality that I feel is both sensible and prudent. I may be seen as a “kook” by some, but as a father and husband I feel a compelling sense of responsibility for the welfare of my family whether the storms come or not. Old fashioned, probably; but that’s how we see things from in front of the Tinkerer’s Tool Chest.

Keeping the Lights On — Part 2 Obtaining a Genset

My bias (some might say obsession) for diesel engines for this kind of application left me looking for a diesel generator. They use less fuel, run quieter, and typically, last longer. So I have been watching the local classifieds (got to love Craigslist) for a suitable unit. I wanted something 5kw or larger so it would be able to run our essentials like our sump pumps, well pump, refrigerator, and a few lights. The fact that our well pump is a 220V unit meant that I needed a generator with a 220V output as well.

Okay, back to the story. So last week my trusty smartphone alerts me that it has found me yet another opportunity to spend some of my hard earned money on a used item from Craigslist. Yes, I have an app for that. This one is a diesel generator for the bargain basement asking price of $150. Okay dumphone, now you have my attention. The listing says it is a 6500 watt diesel powered unit that does not run and has “very low compression”. Hmmm, sounds like a tinkerers dream.  After debating with myself over the matter and consulting the minister of finance (my wife) I call the gentleman and get some more information. It all sounds about right so I set up a time to meet this gentleman at his home about 45 minutes away from where I live. A snowy Saturday afternoon drive returns me home with yet another project for the shop floor. This one goes to the front of the queue. It is a foreign made 6500 watt (peak) 5000 watt (working load) generator with electric start a 240V output and best of all is it a DIESEL! Yes, it is an off brand, yes it was made in China is probably of less than optimal quality and parts may be less readily available, but it should be worth the $120 cash I gave for it, (yeah I talked him down a bit since it was in about 10 pieces). Plus I had a feeling that there was something minor to blame for it’s non-running condition.

Not everyone will be willing to risk the convenience of their lighting or the moisture content of their basement living room’s carpet on a used generator, but that’s how “we tinkerers” roll. I would rather have the satisfaction of knowing I saved about a thousand dollars on a used and now fixed item than to spend a lot up front and buy a new item. To many this may seem a foolish endeavor, but it’s just part of being a tinkerer (and part of being BROKE!).  But I know that this approach isn’t for everyone, so how do you go about buying a generator?

Well if you have done your load calculations (you did do your load calculations, right!?) you know what size generator you need to have. The next step comes in deciding whether you want to buy a new unit or if you’re willing to buy a used genset. For those for whom cost is no object, I suggest you buy new and pay someone else to install it.  I also suggest you buy the whole house variety and enjoy the luxury of the seamless transition to generated backup power when street power goes down. Luckily for the rest of us for whom the cost of this project is a major determining factor, there are some options that will allow for doing this yourself.

As I have already inferred, there is a pretty sizable selection of affordable generators available to the educated consumer through a number of different channels. Practically every home improvement center sells a wide selection of generators in sizes that vary from very  small and portable to big enough to drain your wallet keeping them fueled. Some home centers even sell the whole house varieties, although I would encourage you to do your homework on the quality of these units. It is not at all uncommon for the quality of models sold to the big box home centers to be compromised in the name of keeping the price down. Many manufacturers of power equipment develop specific “lines” of equipment for sale in the big box home improvement centers. In the case of a generator, you may see engines of lower quality used, and you certainly won’t get the customer support after your purchase that you would experience if you were to buy from a smaller local dealer. If these are factors that you are willing to deal with you can get a lot of generator for your money buying at a home improvement center.

If buying a new generator is not in the budget, a used model may suit your needs just as well and save you a lot up front, just beware of what you’re getting. As counter intuitive as is seems, you can get a very durable older generator for a good price if you know what you’re looking for. Often the generator has been stored in someone’s shed or garage and has seen little usage over a number of years.

– Look for older generators with a high quality engine. In the 70’s and 80’s Kohler engines were in my opinion, almost unmatched  in their reliability and durability. Score one of these older units and you will have an easy to service, durable unit that was built to endure the test of time. Look especially for older engines Kohler engines that are marked as having a cast iron sleeves. Newer generators having Onan engines would tend to be generally high quality units. Stay away from gensets with off brand or obscure engine brands (I know I am violating my own rule on this one but it’s a DIESEL!). Be careful with Briggs and Stratton. They manufacture a wide variety of engines in both size and quality. If you can stay with one of their I/C (Industrial / Commercial) engines it will be fine. Briggs and Stratton’s Vanguard lineup is a high quality line of commercial quality engines as well. Just stay away from a cheaper B&S engine. They’re built for economy and not durability.

– Pay special attention to the condition of the finish of the generator. If it has been well cared for, and kept clean, it may serve you well for a long time.

– As ridiculous as it sounds to say it, if your intent is to buy a running generator, make sure you see it run. Start it yourself if you can so that you’re familiar with the operation of the controls. A well maintained unit should start quickly with one or two pulls of the pull cord. If the unit is equipped with electric start, make sure the battery is in working condition. A new battery for this type of application typically costs less that $50, but if the unit needs a new battery, you and the seller should both be aware of that fact.

– Look for a generator with a generously sized fuel tank. The last thing you want to be doing if the power is out is constantly topping off the fuel tank on your generator.

– Low oil shutoff. This is a feature of many newer generators that serves to protect the engine by shutting down the engine if the oil level gets below a critical level. The generator not having this feature is not a deal breaker but the added safety net is a nice reassurance. Just keep a watchful eye on the oil level. Check it whenever you fill up the fuel tank and you’ll be just fine.

– A volt meter is a plus. Having a volt meter on the generator gives you the ability to see how well it is keeping up with your energy requirements. If you start to overload the generator, the voltage will start to fall below the optimal levels.

– If you intend to connect your generator to your home’s wiring, it is best to obtain a generator that generates a 220/240 volt circuit as well as a 110/120 circuit. We will go over the reason why this is the case when we talk about how to connect the generator to your home’s wiring.

Don’t be willing to compromise the requirements of your application for the sake of a good deal, but if you’re ready to make your move and you know what you’re looking for, you can get some great deals on used generators. I suggest having your money ready and knowing what you’re looking for. Having cash available when the opportunity arises can mean getting the generator you need for a great value.

More on how to use your new generator once you get it home.

Keeping the Lights On — Part 1: Sizing and Selecting a Generator

Whether you just want a way to  keep the lights on in case a passing storm knocks the power out, or you are concerned with a more permanent solution should a long term issue occur, many people are beginning to think about their power needs as it pertains to being off “the grid”. While there are many different approaches to “off grid” power including solar, wind, and internal combustion (engine driven) generators, what we will focus on for right now is the subject of a typical engine driven gen-set. I don’t intend to cheapen any of the other alternative sources of energy, but I feel that they deserve a more dedicated approach to power generation than I intend to cover in this series of posts. So for right now, engine driven generators is the subject at hand.

Ever since moving into our current home it has been very apparent to my wife and I that a backup generator of some sort was going to be a necessity. Our land lies in an area surrounded by farm fields and  we seem to have a very high water table. In fact, on more than one occasion, the below floor service pit in my shop has served as our neighborhood’s prominent water feature. At any rate, the sump pumps that evacuate groundwater from our foundation and basement are a vital resource. This is especially true for us since our lower level (the house is a tri-level with the lower level being a family room) houses a fully finished family room and a makeshift office / utility room. This made the need for a backup power system pretty apparent the first time we lost power for a few minutes. This issue was further exacerbated by the humbling experience of knowing full well that we needed a generator and having to “borrow” some juice from the neighbor’s generator when the power went out for a few hours during a recent storm. The only thing worse than being blind-sided by a dire circumstance is knowing that you are vulnerable to a particular circumstance and still being unprepared to meet it. Let me tell you, it one heck of a way to harden your resolve.

So in the first installment of this series, let’s pause a moment to talk about a few criteria for generator sizing.

Necessity or Luxury?

The first thing, in my opinion to carefully consider, is the quality of lifestyle that you intend to maintain when the line power is out. It may not be practical to expect to have all the lights on and all the appliances running whenever you want to if the power is out. A generator to run everything at once like the power company does will cost a lot more than one that will run a few necessities at a time. Being able to prioritize these electrical loads and decide which ones are essentials and which are luxuries is not only a necessary part of sizing a generator, but it is a healthy thought process in which you decide what things are actually most important to maintaining life in your home. In my case, the sump pumps and the well pump are essentials, but running the air conditioning, cooking dinner in the stove, and running a furnace fan, are not. For you, your needs may differ as each situation is different, but deciding what you need and what you can do without can drastically affect the size of generator that your application requires. If the power goes out, do you want your home to function as it normally does, or are you willing to live a lifestyle more like you’re camping in your own home?

Bigger is better right?

Once you have prioritized your electrical loads, sizing the generator is the next step in the process. Generators are typically rated in watts or kw (kilowatts or 1,000 watt units). To get some idea of the scale of what we are talking about, a 5 kw generator (5,000 watts) will provide enough electricity to run 50 100 watt incandescent light bulbs. Of chief concern in your consideration is to ensure that the load rating of the generator you are looking at is a working load and not the peak load. Generator manufacturers like to play with these numbers to make it look as though you are getting more generator for your money, so a 5kw generator may actually be rated at 5kw working load OR it may be rated at 5kw peak load. Understanding this difference is important. Resistive type electrical load like lights and heating elements generally draw about the same amount of energy from the time you turn them on to the time they are turned off. Spinning loads, like electric motors are not that way. A typical motor in a household environment draws a lot of energy to get started then tapers off to a lower load once it is spinning. Think of it like starting a bicycle from a dead start; it takes less energy to keep it moving than it does to start from a standstill. The initial inrush of energy needed to get an electric motor started is what that peak load rating is for. The generator may be rated at 5kw peak to get a large motor or appliance started, but the generator may only be rated for 3.5 or 4kw of operating load. This means that the generator is not capable of providing that 5kw of electricity for long periods of time. Keep this in mind when shopping for a generator.

Another somewhat troublesome factor in sizing a generator is that while generators are rated in watts (the total energy that can be delivered), most household appliances are rated in volts and amps. This is one of those rare instances when we get to use some of that lost knowledge from algebra class. The formula for calculating these loads is P=IE or power (in this case watts) equals Volts times Amps. You could also look at this equation as W=V*A. Some electronics are even rated in VA (or volt amps) which is essentially the same as watts. So say your refrigerator requires 120 volts at 2.8 amps max. 120 times 2.8 = 336 watts.The same can be said for you larger 240 volt appliances; volts times amps equals the number of watts required to run that device. A side note here is that there is some confusion of over voltage designations. Some people say their house has 110/220 others 120/240. The differences are minor and it typically varies based upon your distance from the power company’s nearest substation. The key is to base your calculations on the rated output of your generator. Your devices will work on the voltage you are making with your generator so that will be the voltage upon which to base your calculations. Anyway, add up the load of the devices that you feel you will need to run simultaneously and then add a safety buffer of about 20-30%. Your generator will be a lot happier not running right at it’s limits. Keep in mind that larger load items (like an electric water heater or a well pump) don’t need to be run all the time. A simple flip of a breaker will ensure that they don’t come on when they are not needed, and then you can switch them on in times when the power is not being used elsewhere. An example is that you can heat your water at night when you aren’t using lights and pumping water. In my case my chief concern was to have power available to run my sump pumps. Having the extra power available to run a few lights and to keep the ‘fridge cool is a bonus, but for me was it is not the top of my list of priorities.

One final thing to remember is that bigger is not always better. A generator with a larger capacity will be heavier (harder to move), costlier to buy and maintain, and will consume more fuel even if it is at partial load. I suggest calculating your load and adding a safety factor of about 30% to that number.

The best tool for the job

The final thing for you to think about is what type of generator best fits your application. A home backup generator complete with an ATS (Automatic Transfer Switch) will automatically transfer you to emergency power within seconds of the street power going down. Typically powered by either natural gas or propane, these generators are the go-to option for those who aren’t typically mechanically inclined, or just wish to have the most automatic method of providing emergency power. Typically these generators will have to be installed by an electrical contractor since they require that connections be made to your incoming power in the breaker box. Also, typical with these generation systems is the fact that there is some ongoing service that needs to be performed to ensure that the gen-set is operating as it should be. These systems typically run the generator for an “exercise” period once a week at a time that you select and require routine service much like your car would. Oil changes, tune-ups and other routine maintenance items should be factored into the cost of ownership of these whole house systems.

For many DIY’ers the portable gen-set is an acceptable alternative to the higher costs of a home backup generator. The generators are portable, less costly, and while they don’t generally include an ATS, adapters can be made that will allow the gen-set to back-feed power into your existing wiring system. The lower cost of these systems is appealing to many and to some (like myself) to whom natural gas or propane is not a viable option, a portable gen-set will work just fine, provided the fuel tank is kept full.

Take your time in assessing your needs and really think about how you intend to use the generation system you are considering. A whole house generator works well to get you up and running during a passing storm, but if your concern is a more long term power outage, then you really should consider your options and weigh carefully what kind of lifestyle you intend to maintain in the event of an extended power outage.

So which is better, gasoline or diesel?

Let me start with a bit of a disclaimer. I drive a diesel pickup. It’s a phenomenon that can only be understood by members of certain groups. Similar to riding a motorcycle or driving a Jeep Wrangler (both of which I have done in the past), where everyone who is doing likewise waves as they pass, owning a diesel pickup truck is a bit of a loosely assembled but wildly loyal brotherhood. So it is with a bit of a prejudice, and a pair of work boots that reek of spilled diesel and motor oil that I write this post.

To understand the question, it is best that we start by understanding the differences between the two designs. Both types of engines are internal combustion, reciprocating piston designs. For purposes of this discussion, I will be referring to 4 stroke conventional engines, not rotary, 2 stroke, or turbine engines.

Let’s start by talking about the two fuels for a minute. Gasoline is a more refined fuel (meaning more impurities have to be removed from crude oil to make gasoline). Diesel is less refined. Diesel makes a better lubricant and burns slowly. Gasoline is an excellent solvent and burns rapidly (almost explodes). An interesting sidebar here is that since diesel fuel is less refined than gasoline, you get more gallons of diesel out of a barrel of crude oil than you do gasoline. This begs the question then “why is diesel more expensive than gasoline?” doesn’t it? The answer is a combination of market forces, but a large portion of the difference lies in the taxes imposed upon each type of fuel. Diesel is perceived at this point to be a fuel “for industry” and thus Uncle Sam assumes they can bear a larger “donation” to the federal coffers.

The main difference in the way that these two engine designs work is their method if ignition. A gas engine compresses a mixture of air and fuel (gasoline) to a relatively low compression ratio (typically around 8-12:1) and then ignites the mixture with a spark by means of a spark plug. A diesel engine on the other hand compresses the air and fuel until the mixture explodes by spontaneous combustion because of the pressures to which it has been compressed. This is why a diesel engine is sometimes referred to as a compression ignition (or combustion) engine. It compresses the air/fuel mixture to the point of combustion. As a result of this difference, the diesel engine tends to run at a much higher compression ratio than its gas counterpart (in the range of 14:1 to 25:1).

Also noteworthy is the difference in the fuel delivery to the combustion chamber. A gasoline engine always has a butterfly valve (air to fuel ratio is critical to the operation of a gasoline engine) in the air intake system to restrict the flow of air to maintain a very delicate balance of air and fuel. The fuel is delivered by means of either a carburetor or is injected at relatively low pressures through a fuel injection nozzle into the intake tack of the engine. A few manufacturers have started using DI (Direct Injection) technology as well in their gasoline engines, but they are the exception and not the rule at this point. A diesel engine generally has no restriction in the air intake to restrict the flow of air so it runs inherently lean (meaning that it has a lot more air than it does fuel in the mix). This also means that the diesel engine has less resistance when pulling the air into a cylinder, and flows a larger volume of air at partial throttle application. Essentially a diesel engine uses about the same volume of air per revolution at idle as a gasoline engine does at full throttle. A diesel engine generally injects the fuel into the combustion cylinder either by way of a mixing chamber (IDI or InDirect Injection) or sprays the fuel right onto the top of the piston (DI or Direct Injection).

Okay so all the techno babble aside, what does all that jargon mean?

Lemme’ break it down for ‘ya, brotha:

–In general a diesel engine runs slower than a gasoline engine. This is not always true but is a general rule. Where as most automotive engines redline (have their speeds limited) at around 5,000 RPM’s the 7.3 liter turbo diesel in my truck redlines at 3,200 RPM’s. This is not a huge difference, but it does have an affect on the way the vehicle drives.

–Diesel engines tend to be more durable. Their fuel is a lubricant fuel. Diesel is “slippery” compared to gasoline, so it tends to help lubricate the engine as it is being burned. Add to that the fact that the engines have to be built heavier to withstand the combustion forces, and the result is generally a more durable design.

–Diesels can run on alternative fuels. Rudolf Diesel (whose engine design bears his name) actually pioneered the technology to run off of powdered coal dust, and then later adapted it to run off liquid oils. There are plenty of online resources devoted to the use of Waste Vegetable Oil (WVO), Waste Motor Oil (WMO), or home brewed biodiesel as motor fuels.

English: Rudolf Diesel, inventor of the diesel...

–Weight is a factor. The fact that a diesel engine runs with higher compression ratios means that it has to be built heavier in order to withstand the higher pressures inside it. Don’t look for a diesel powered chainsaw anytime soon. The engine that is in my truck weighs about a half a ton (literally). That is about half again what a typical gas engine of similar size would weigh.

–Typically a diesel engine produces more torque than an equally sized gasoline engine. This is splitting hairs to some degree since horse power is the ultimate measure of an engine’s ability to do work, but since horsepower is a function of speed and torque (horsepower = torque times speed, divided by 5252 or HP=(TQ*RPM)/5252 in algebraic terms) driving a diesel just feels different.Torque is the measure of force, but horsepower takes into account how fast you can apply that force.

–Fuel consumption is generally less with a diesel engine. This is because of the fact that there are fewer mechanical losses in the diesel system (remember that restricting throttle butterfly we talked about up a few paragraphs?) and the fact that the diesel is running at a higher compression ratio.

Essentially here is the real world application.My previous truck was a 5.4 liter V-8 gasoline powered truck. The engine was rated at 260 HP and 290 lb/ft of torque. It’s redline was around 5,000 RPM. This truck weighed around 5,600 pounds would seat two adults and three people who didn’t mind being sandwiched into the back jump-seat. It averaged about 14 MPG of mixed driving and had a carrying capacity of about 1,200 lbs. My current truck (I can’t say “new since it is 3 years older than my “old” one) uses a 7.3 liter V-8 turbo diesel power plant which is rated at 215 HP and generates 450 lb/ft of torque. This truck weighs about 6,700 lbs, seats 6 full sized people and can haul about twice as much in the bed as the prior ride could. And by the way I have averaged 14.75 MPG of mixed driving as of late. This pretty well describes the difference in these two designs. Gasoline engines make good power but you generally have to wind them up to get the most out of them. Diesel engines aren’t going to rev as far as a gasoline engine, but their higher compression ratios make them very strong (meaning a lot of torque) at lower speeds.

So which one is better? Well the answer is -BOTH. No, seriously; it really  depends on the application. As I have said I am a fan of diesels because of their more efficient design, their durability and their fuel efficiency, but there are some factors that just make them the wrong tool for the job in some instances.

–While a diesel truck may carry more firewood and use the same or less fuel, it isn’t well suited for short trips. That 1,000 lbs of cast iron under the hood takes forever to warm up in the Ohio winter so don’t get in a hurry to thaw your toes or defrost the windshield unless you had the block heater plugged in. Block heater, that reminds me of another downfall of a diesel engine.

–They don’t start well when cold. Much of this issue can be overcome by having a good working glow plug system that essentially heats each cylinder individually when the engine is started, but they certainly don’t like the cold.

–Weight is also an issue. The diesel design just requires a heavier engine. This makes them poorly suited to applications where weight is a determining factor. While weight may not be a huge issue if you’re driving a full size pickup truck, locomotive, tractor trailer, farm tractor, or piece of heavy machinery, for applications where weight is a consideration like portable power equipment, aircraft, etc the weight of a diesel power plant is a major limitation.

–Maintenance on diesels is more intensive. Number one there is typically a lot more motor oil in a diesel engine (there are close to 4 gallons of oil in my truck right now as compared to 5 quarts in most automobile gasoline engines). Every oil change I perform costs me about $60. And that is doing it myself (of course). Diesels also have to have special systems that a gasoline engine doesn’t (turbo chargers, vacuum pumps, glow plug systems, oil coolers, high pressure oil or fuel systems, etc).

–Fuel quality is a lot more critical in a diesel engine, especially newer ones. Gasoline can absorb some water and still do its job just fine. Diesel and water will not mix under general circumstances. It has been a disturbing but quiet story for a while now that many of the newer automotive diesel engines have been very, VERY sensitive to fuel quality issues. I heard a story the other day where a gentleman was on the hook with his dealership for about a $10,000 repair bill for his new diesel truck because the fuel had water in it.

–Emissions standards are harder to achieve with a diesel engine. I’m sure we all have seen a diesel truck or two go down the road billowing black smoke out the stacks. It takes a lot of technology working together to keep the engine making peak power without blowing smoke like that. There are some newer diesels that actually require additional urea injection systems to “clean” the exhaust up and prevent that smoke. These vehicles have a separate tank for Diesel Exhaust Fluid (DEF for short). Mixing that fluid with the fuel can also ruin the fuel system.

Having a diesel ends up to a bit of a hobby for most people. Newer designs are improving this, but there are still some extra things to consider and maintain when you have a diesel engine.

The bottom line is that both designs have their strong suits and their downfalls. For a home generator, my choice is a diesel, but for a lawn mower it’s gasoline all the way. The grocery getter….. well, that one is still up for debate.