OPOC Diesel Engine a “GO”….But there is a catch!

Well, it appears as though the OPOC engine technology that I wrote about some time ago is a “go” for production. But there is a catch. EcoMotors is reporting to Fox News that the design has been backed by a foreign company with the catch being that the engines will ultimately be produced in….China. Here’s hoping that EcoMotors has a good QC department!

Link to the story

Reportedly EcoMotors has a letter of intent from Generac to use the engine design in their generators. A stationary application like this may prove to be a very good proving ground for this up-and-coming technology.

An Exhaustive look at the sounds of a 7.3 Powerstroke Diesel

Did you hear the one about the guy that dreamed he was a muffler? Yeah, he woke up exhausted.  I guess you could say that this was an exhausting post to develop. Or you could say that the whole project is just a lot of hot air. Maybe even that the whole thing just stinks. But I am not just blowing smoke…

Regardless of the pun you choose, one of the most irritating things to me about looking at exhaust options is the lack of the presence of a good sound clip of what the exhaust sounds like on a given vehicle. After all, that’s why you’re changing the exhaust right? To change the sound!? Youtube has proven to be a useful tool in getting an idea of what to expect in many different configurations, so I thought I would make an addition to the noise.

With that in mind, and since I had some options to play with, I took a few videos of different options as I was building my latest variation of the exhaust on my truck. I know the sound quality of these videos isn’t great, but it should give you more than enough to hear what the different options sound like.

All these videos were taken with the 3″ dowpipe and EBPV (Exhaust Back Pressure Valve) delete already done to the truck. I simply didn’t think to take any before that. Most people know what a stock PSD 7.3 exhaust sounds like anyway.

So here are some different setups that I have tried on my truck.

Stock exhaust:

Forgive the shaky camera on the ride-along videos. The trucks ride like, well, like a 1 ton truck…

Here are 2 videos of the stock intermediate pipe (no catalytic converter) with the 3″ downpipe, EBPV delete, 6637 kit, etc.

And finally, here is a pair of videos with my finished (albeit unconventional) straight pipe exhaust. It measure about 4.5″ OD and is about as straight a straight pipe as it gets. I will give a rep point to the first one to guess what this pipe setup it.

This setup is LOUD! I am not completely satisfied with the sound. Although the turbo whine is impressive the drone of the exhaust bothers me a little. I’m not sure my neighbors are going to be happy with me either when I leave the house at 0515 either. For the most part the noise level can be adjusted means of the skinny pedal on the right, demonstrating the effectiveness of the term “loud pedal”.  I figure I will run this one a while and see how I feel about it after a few weeks/months. I still think a full 4″ exhaust with a small straight through muffler might be the setup of preference for me because I don’t like the obnoxious drone. The 7.3 is far from a quiet running engine regardless of the pipes attached, but I am going to give this setup some time before I pass my final judgement on it. One thing is for sure, the few hours that I spent on making this pipe setup (which is the only real investment I made in the current configuration), was a lot cheaper than buying a $300-$400 exhaust kit.

Ideally I would like to keep the drone and raspy tone to a minimum but keep the turbo whistle. I don’t know that this is possible with these trucks but anything is better than the exhaust that was on the truck when I got it. Some moron had fitted up a true dual exhaust system to it that used the stock pipe up to a splitter then ran about 1 5/8″ duals OUT THE BACK. It would about asphyxiate you to leave the truck running and hitch up a trailer and towing for any amount of time would leave soot all over the front of your trailer. Maybe not a big deal if you were towing a utility trailer or something, but I got tired of cleaning off the front of our camper.

At any rate, there are some videos to watch and some sounds to be heard. Enjoy!

A fuel economy rant

This all started with a video sent to me by someone else. Here’s the rub.

Watch this video:

I love how this guy starts the video by saying “I got something here to tick you off!” It worked…

Now I know that the numbers are a little fuzzy and they don’t convert directly, but here is my thought process. Follow me here:

I wanted to make sure this comparison was as close an “Apples to Apples” comparison as possible so I selected the Jetta since it was available in very much the same configurations in the US and UK. Both were 6 speed manual transmission 2.0 TDI powertrains, in the same model car.

HERE is the link to the US version and HERE is a link to the UK version. Following me so far? Good.

Now to complicate the comparison slightly is the fact that the MPG rating of the two vehicles are measured differently. The UK rating is based upon the imperial gallon which, of course is about 20% larger than a US gallon (1 Imperial Gallon = 1.2009504234173434 Gallons US). Also, European cars are frequently rated in liters of fuel used to travel 100km. So you have to make the conversion to be able to compare the hard numbers. Luckily, once again the internet is your friend and saves you from having to strain your brain to recall all of those long forgotten algebra lessons. HERE is a link to a handy conversion site that I like to frequent for matters such as these.

So… you punch in the numbers and this is what you find out: The UK version of the same car gets the equivalent of 38.559 MPG (US) city and 57.369 MPG (US) highway. You can calculate this by either converting MPG Imperial to MPG US or by converting the L/100km figures to MPG US.  They agree either way.

One of two things must be going on here. One possible explanation is that the fuel in the UK is more efficient than what we have here and that could make some sense, but more likely in my mind is the fact that the US models are saddled with more emissions controls than the UK versions and that decreases their mechanical efficiency. Either way this is pretty frustrating. In addition, the 1.6 liter Blue Motion TDI engine that is mentioned in the video (which gets 45.2 MPG (US) city and a stunning 65.4 MPG (US) highway) isn’t even offered in the US. I can’t speculate on the reasoning for the exclusion of this option from the US market, but I don’t have any reason to doubt the explanation offered in the video.

All this begs the question “what is the goal here?”. Are we really striving to make the most fuel efficient vehicles possible or are we trying to shape the market to fit our preconceived goal or reshaping the way that America moves and works? Is it just a power grab? Why the obsession with gas/electric hybrids when these TDI’s get as good or better fuel economy? Why the big push to the all electric vehicle when it clearly isn’t what the majority of Americans want? I guess it is just another case of “Big brother knows best”. Maybe we peons aren’t smart enough o know what is best for us. It’s a good thing we don’t have to fend for ourselves out there in the big, scary world like all those folks in the UK who get to choose their cars from all the options available.

One think is for sure, It does tick you off to think about it (at least it does for me).

Project Powerstroke

As I have stated before I drive a big ugly (for now) diesel pickup. My truck is a crew cab 1996 Ford F-350 with almost 400,000 miles on it. When I got the truck it was not intended to be my daily driver, but a change of occupation has left we without the company service vehicle that I drove home for the previous 11 years. So with that many miles on the truck and the new need to drive it daily I was faced with the decision to either improve the current vehicle or replace it with something else. Living on one income, being just down right stubborn, and possessing the compulsion to tinker, the decision was made to keep the current vehicle for now and make the most out of it.

The truck was starting to smoke a lot and the worn out stock fuel injectors were to blame. I guess 400k miles is about all those cheap injectors are good for (kidding). So with this in mind it appeared as though it needed fuel injectors, which on these trucks is an expensive proposition. I ended up stumbling onto a Craig’s List ad for a complete and running truck for about the same price as the injectors that I needed, and as I was fairly confident that I would be able to sell the rest of the parts off the truck for the purchase price of the whole vehicle, and the deal showed the promise of giving me a bunch of free parts for my big bad (ugly) ride. A little lobbying to my loving wife, a trip to look at the truck, a trip to the bank, and I drove the truck home. The decision was made then and there to swap the (relatively) lower mileage engine (260,000) into my truck. I say low l=mileage because these engines have been known to survive 500,000 miles plus without an overhaul when they are well maintained.

Heart transplant donor in the foreground, recipient in the background.

The very same day as it arrived at my shop, I pulled it into the shop and started the process of tearing it down.

Then about a week later, out came the engine.

This was the goal of the entire project:

Behold the mighty International Navistar T444E Diesel V-8 (aka Powerstroke 7.3)

This engine weighs about half a ton (literally around 1,000 pounds by itself). Once the engine was out of the truck, I scrapped out a few more items from the rolling chassis and then the truck was pushed out of the shop and parked outside. At this point, some time elapsed while I sold a variety of parts off the truck to fund the next stage of the swap. A new fuel pump was installed onto the engine, all the o-ring seals in the fuel system were replaced, the oil pan was removed, refinished and then re-sealed and installed. A modification to the turbo system was performed and some other repairs and modifications were performed while the engine was out of the truck and everything was easy to reach.

This is where the story get’s a little ridiculous by most people’s opinon. I had some vacation time to use up so I took time off work to perform the swap. Yes, that’s right I took a “stay-cation” so I could do an engine swap on my 16 year old truck. My truck is my daily driver so without it, our family was down to one vehicle making it difficult to coordinate schedules. I enjoy this type of work and it is my only practical hobby, so I felt good about taking the time off. I ended up having 5 days off in a row to get everything done. Plenty of time right? We shall see…

So into the shop goes my truck which we have affectionately named “Bullwinkle” and off comes the hood and front end.

This rusty front section is called the core support because it supports the radiator core. Pretty much the whole front end of the truck is built off this piece. I knew that the core support on my truck was rusted badly and was in need of repair or replacement, so in advance of the swap I had repaired the one from the donor truck and prepped it for installation. Eventually out came the engine and the engine bay, repaired core support and frame were coated with a rustproofing agent called POR15.

More work was needed as at this point it was Saturday night and I was to return to work on Monday. Finally, late Sunday night it cam to life!

Pay no attention to the tribal blessing of the truck that is happening inside the bed and in the back of the truck during that video. It is a complex ritual of celebration that involves the use of an ice scraper, interpretive dance, and three young arbiters of automotive goodwill.

The deadline was pretty narrow, but before bedtime on Sunday night I had the truck back together and had road tested the “new” engine.

As of the writing of this post, it has been almost exactly 4 months since this swap. Since then I have sold enough parts off the donor truck to pay for its purchase price, buy all the parts and supplies for the swap, and buy some parts for the continuing “restoration” of my truck. I will likely sell a few more parts off the truck and then scrap what ever is left.

I just thought you all might like to see a small success story of what can be done when you lay out a plan, have the tools and resources to do the job and aren’t afraid to get your hands dirty. I wouldn’t say that I knew what exactly I was going to get myself into on this project, even though I have done similar projects before, but as a result of having done this, I know now EXACTLY what to expect if I ever attempt this type of thing again. As was said by Thomas Edison, “Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.”. Don’t miss the opportunity to do something yourself and gain the experience and knowledge that comes by experience. At the very least, being able to DIY makes you a more rounded individual.

Next up on the agenda is body work which is something else I have dabbled at but never mastered.

“I am always doing what I cannot do yet, in order to learn how to do it.”
Vincent Willem van Gogh

Alternatives to pump diesel

One of the many things that I like about diesel engines is that they can be run on a number of different fuels. I know that gasoline engines can too (namely alcohol) but diesels can be run on a pretty wide variety of fuels with little or no modifications. In fact when Rudolf Diesel designed and tested his engine design he designed it to run first on coal dust, then on peanut oil, and it wasn’t until later on in the development process that he considered petroleum distillates as potential fuel sources for his design. That being said, some modern designs of diesel engines are better suited for operation on alternative fuels than others, but pretty much all diesel engines can be run on fuel types other than pump diesel with varying degrees of success.

First of all, lets talk about the commercially available kits for WMO/WVO use. These systems are generally two tank systems (a separate tank for the WMO or WVO) that introduce a very important ingredient to the equation — HEAT. Waste vegetable oil has probably gotten the most attention for use in automotive applications and at temperatures below 50 degrees or so many types of wast veggie oil congeal and turn to a semi solid mass of gelatinous goo. To use this stuff as fuel, you have to keep it liquid, and to achieve a good atomization you have to have it pretty hot (typically around 140-170 degrees Fahrenheit). This works great for every day use, but in the event of an emergency, unless you have all the parts on hand to assemble your own conversion kit, you need to use what you have. That is what I want to discuss. Also, for the purposes of this discussion, I do not plan to cover the use of Biodiesel, as I don’t feel it is an especially practical fuel for emergency use due to the need for processing equipment, a substantial supply of waste vegetable oil, and special chemicals necessary for the process.

Aside from commercially available kits to convert your diesel engine for running alternative fuels like waste vegetable oil (WVO), Waste Motor Oil (WMO), Waste Automatic Transmission Fluid (WATF) for everyday use, and the Biodiesel mentioned above let’s take a moment and consider the options available as alternative fuels in the case of an emergency situation as well as some of the downfalls of each.

Waste Motor Oil (WMO) – This is the black gold that you typically drain from the crankcase of your car every 3,000 miles or so (you do change your own oil right?). Methods for using WMO vary from running it in a heated tank like you would WVO, to running it straight in warmer months. One method that is gaining popularity in some circles is the process known as blending. This involves adding a set percentage of a solvent of some sort (typically pump diesel, unleaded gasoline, or even paint thinners can be used) and then allowing the mixture to settle in a tank to let the impurities settle to the bottom of the tank. This type of fuel is known by the generic name W85 in many instances because it is 85% (approximately) waste oil. The “cleaned” fuel is then pumped, siphoned, or drained off the top of the tank and used in the vehicle. I have done a fair amount of “tinkering” with different mixtures and concentrations as well as different solvents and I have burned a decent amount of this type of fuel in my truck with varying degrees of success. Chronicling these experiments is probably reserved for another blog post, but be aware that waste motor and hydraulic oil, as well as automatic transmission fluid can be used as fuel with some filtering and the use of a solvent.

Waste Vegetable Oil (WVO) – WVO can obviously be used as a motor fuel, but as stated above in cooler weather the fuel gels at a relatively warm temperature. In warmer months, however WVO can be used as a motor fuel in warmer months as long as you keep a couple things in mind. First of all, it must be cleaned sufficiently. Most WVO has lots of grit in it; think french fry fragments, chicken breading, and worst of all water. Removing these contaminants takes some filtering and work, but it is doable. Second, starting the engine on another fuel is best. If you can start the engine of pump diesel and warm it up on that before switching to WVO it will considerably reduce coking (which is a process of the ash created by burning the fuel building up inside your engine. One major downfall of using WVO is that WVO and mineral oil (WMO or the oil in your engine) create a black sticky, polymerized goo when they are combined. Even mixing some of them together in a container and allowing it to sit for a while will reveal the results of this process. Having this happen inside your engine is a disaster that can ruin the engine. So much for running on alternative fuels, huh? Be careful with WVO. Its best use in my opinion is for being processed into biodiesel, which as I have said is not the best alternative fuel for emergency use because of the relatively complex process required to produce it.

Home heating oil (HHO) – Fuel oil is very Very close in its composition to diesel fuel and they can be used almost interchangeably. Kerosene is similar in composition as well, although it has been further refined to remove additional impurities to improve the cleanliness of the burn. Both HHO and Kerosene can be used as a motor fuel. Diesel fuel, can by the same token be used for home heating purposes, but it does not burn as clean and produces a bit more smoke, so care should be taken when using it as a home heating fuel. I would not recommend either one for use in a ventless design Kerosene heater as the diesel fuel almost certainly produces more carbon monoxide than relatively clean burning kerosene would. This is one reason why diesel engines are a preference for me as we typically have at least a hundred gallons of fuel oil on hand for home heating purposes. Having this safety net in case of a medium term emergency is a nice reassurance against running out of fuel for the generator and or truck especially since we can heat our home entirely off wood should we so desire.

As I stated above there are a number of different ways to approach the use of alternative fuel in the case of an emergency, but almost all the alt fuels will require some sort of filtering. Commercially available filter vessels and filters are, of course, available for this purpose, but regular residential water filter housings can be used in conjunction with filter media of varying compositions to filter the oil down to a size of about 5 microns. This is a process that I have been using under gravity pressure with pretty good success. Allowing the oil to pass through the filter at no more than gravity pressure prevents the oil from passing through the filter too rapidly to filter properly.  It isn’t a quick process, but I am in no hurry anyway (at least when it comes to this process).

At some point in the future I may go into more detail about the specifics of these processes but for now, a brief overview of the alternatives is what I was hoping to achieve.

Just another reason why the diesel is a viable and some may argue, superior motor fuel.

‘Til we meet again,


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.


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.