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!

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

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….

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.

Diesel Pro 6500 Watt Generator project

As I have mentioned previously, a couple weeks ago I purchased a non-running Diesel Pro KDE6500E Generator. It is a diesel powered 6500 watt generator with electric start, and as it was not running at the time of my purchase I bought it for the bargain price of $120. I found the generator via Craig’s List and went to look at it about 45 minutes from my house.

The gentleman from whom I purchased it said that he had loaned it out to a friend in running condition and had received it back not only in non-running condition but in several pieces. He said that the guy that he had loaned it to had put off road diesel in it and now it had no compression. Hmm, I thought, the off road diesel doesn’t have anything to do with it not running, but it certainly didn’t have any compression. It was missing a battery, the pull start was in pieces, the covers were all off the frame, it had parts that even the former owner didn’t know where they went, and as stated it had NO compression. Many small diesel engines (this one included) are equipped with a compression release valve to make them easier to crank and start. This valve blocks the exhaust valve partially open to prevent the engine from making compression. I had a hunch that it could be something simple that was wrong with this engine and it turned over smoothly and seemed “tight” so I took a bit of a gamble. I though if nothing else, I could probably sell the generator head or use it myself with a new engine. The gen head was worth what I was paying for the unit so I didn’t feel it was too much of a gamble. Besides He took my $120 offer when he was asking $150 for the unit. I was feeling pretty good about my chances. So home again we came with my new project in the back of the truck.

As a sidebar for those not very familiar with the design and function of a 4 stroke internal combustion engine the animation below courtesy of Wikipedia may provide a bit of insight into the function of this type of design. This animation is depicting a gas engine (as is evidenced by the presence of the spark plug in the middle of the head) but you get the idea. The piston travels up and down in a total of four strokes per cycle, thus the term a 4 stroke engine. The strokes are known as 1-Intake, 2-Compression, 3-Power (or Combusion), and 4-Exhaust. The blue indicates incoming air and fuel, the brown indicates exhaust. The difference in this animation is that this one shows small cams (overhead cam design) operating the valves directly whereas my diesel generator uses a traditional push rod design. More detail on these dufferences is for another time.

Four-stroke cycle (or Otto cycle) 1. Intake 2....

Image via Wikipedia

THIS animation and its accompanying description may provide a quick primer into the subject a little more insight into the design and function for those concerned with earning extra credit or just interested in learning more.

Once we were home again, the tinkering began almost immediately. The first thing I did was to pull the valve cover (this engine is an overhead valve design). When turning the engine over my hand, I could clearly see that the intake valve was moving up and down as it should be but the exhaust valve was hardly moving at all. The push rod coming up to the rocker for the exhaust valve was barely moving. Strange, I though. So The next step was to pull the cylinder head. Since this generator is of the  “IMPORTED” type (Made in China) and information was at a premium, I measured the torque required to remove the nuts from the head studs. This is an imperfect method of measurement, but it was better than having no idea what soever what the torque specs should be. After recording the figures, I removed the four nuts, the cylinder head, and the intake and exhaust valve push rods. Much to my delight, everything inside the engine looked really good. Little or no wear on the cylinder wall, the piston was in good condition, and most importantly, the cylinder head and valves were in good condition. I put the push rods on top of the lifters and turned the engine over by hand. I was able to get both push rods to move correctly this way so I felt confident that the camshaft and lifters were working properly.

Now ideally, after a good cleaning, a new head gasket would have been installed, but since parts are difficult to obtain for these MiC gensets, and since this unit uses a copper head gasket, I though I would re-assemble it and see if I could get it to make some compression. I thoroughly cleaned all the mating surfaces, then re-installed the head. It was difficult to get the valve push rods to line up correctly with the rockers and the lifter while holding the head with the other hand, but after repeated attempts I was able to get everything to line up. I then re-torqued the head stud nuts. Now with everything re-assembled and turning the engine over by hand I had LOTS of compression. So much compression in fact that it was difficult to turn the engine over by hand on the compression stroke. Now we’re talking! Valve cover affixed, oil level checked, fuel tank cleaned out and refilled, fuel shutoff on, attached a car battery to the leads, turned the key and “CLICK” was all I could get. To make short of an hour or more of continued tinkering,  let’s just say that the starter wasn’t working even after multiple attempts to get it to crank. The starter motor appears to have cranked its last. The pull start was inoperable as well since the shadetree mechanic that took it all apart lost the “dogs” that actually make the mechanism turn the engine over. Well Shoot! Now what? I tried turning the engine over by several different methods and was unable to get it to turn over fast enough to start. Did I mention that it had a lot of compression? Finally, in desperation I tried the old tried and true method of rope wrapping the flywheel thimble and giving it a good sharp tug. It turned over nicely by this method, but still wouldn’t start. Now typically I don’t like using ether in diesel engines (or at all really) but I do keep a can of it in the shop. A snort of ether down the intake and a quick tug on the rope, and would you believe it, it popped and fired! Now we were making some real progress.

It would run on ether (and WD-40 which is another diesel engine trick), but would die immediately once the spray was stopped. No fuel to the injector was the diagnosis. I removed the bolts securing the fuel pump and pulled the pump out of the block. I couldn’t believe my luck. Apparently someone had removed the pump in an attempt to “fix” the non running engine and had put the pump back in with the fuel shutoff in the wrong position. The fork inside the engine that was intended to operate the shutoff lever on the pump was in the wrong position to line up with the actual shutoff fork on the engine case. A quick flip of the lever and I was able to reinstall the pump. I turned the engine over by hand with the fuel line to the injector unhooked, and wouldn’t you know it I was pumping fuel now. So I hooked the lines back up, cracked the line loose at the injector and turned the engine over by hand once again until I had bled all the air out of the lines. Once that line was re-tightened, when I turned the engine over by hand I could actually hear the injector click when it “popped off” its spray of fuel into the cylinder. Another quick shot of ether into the intake, a few pulls of the rope, and lo-an-behold! It’s Alive!

So today on my way home from work  I stopped at our local power equipment dealer. This place is a locally owned, family affair in which the whole family is employed, so I try to support their establishment with my business whenever possible. I had talked to them a few days ago and they had indicated that they may indeed be able to source the necessary parts (namely the starter) for my little project. So I stopped in and showed them my parts. For kicks I had thrown the recoil starter assembly in the box with the starter just in case they could indeed get me those parts as well. As it turns out the Diesel Pro generator that I have is the exact same model that they sell under the name Eastern Tools and Equipment (ETQ). The helpful young man in charge of their parts department asked me an unexpected question when he said “Would you prefer new parts or would you consider a used starter?”. What’s that? A deal!? You bet! So a quick trip to look at a unit that they were stripping for parts and it yielded me a new (used) starter and the whole recoil starter assembly for the pull-it-yourself price of less than $100 out the door. I could hardly believe it.

So this evening after dinner, a few minutes of tinkering, a few nuts and bolts from my own personal stock and I was left with a nicely running generator that will start with the key or the recoil starter.

I took the time to put together a cord to connect the 240 Volt output of the generator to the welder outlet in my shop and the generator powers the entire shop with no problems. I connected a number of devices to the generator including lights and my 120V air compressor that frequently will trip a 20A breaker and the engine hardly bogs when the load is applied. Needless to say I am thrilled to have a running (diesel) generator has cost me less than $250 and a few hours of tinkering, which doesn’t really count anyway since this habit of tinkering is a hobby of mine.

Until next time: