Question Marks

Hello folks and welcome to ToughAssTools.com. Today we will be taking a look at generators and if it makes sense to run these machines when there is no load connected to them. Generators themselves are a great tool to have around the home or for your business. I live in a small town about an hour or so away from the Kansas City area. We can get a lot of power outages during the winter season due to ice storms or blizzards. We can also get these in spring time due to severe storms or even tornadoes. Whatever the cause is having a generator on hand and ready to go can provide comfort during these power loss events.

The question though is should you be running these generators without a load? Now this is a bit different then idling your car. A generator should only be ran with no load if you are doing an initial diagnostic check to ensure everything is working as it should. At most this should be a few minutes and then the unit should be shut down or a load connected. Typically the closer you are to the maximum capacity of your generator the more efficient the machine will be. In some cases you could end up using double the fuel if you are at fifty percent capacity then when you are at one-hundred percent capacity. This is why it is so important to find a generator size that suits your needs. Bigger is not always better.

Running Without a Load

A generator should only be run at a low load for a maximum of fifteen minutes. If you continually run generators without a load connected then you can actively damage your generator. There are a variety of consequences that can occur when running at no or very low load. A few of these are:

When ran at low load the the engine is cooler then it normally would be at higher loads. This results insufficient temperatures to create an efficient combustion. This means that the diesel fuel that you are using is not completely burned resulting in increased exhaust emissions. In these cases when an engine is running at low load you will see a large amount of white smoke. This smoke is not only dangerous to inhale but is also bad for the environment.

Remember how we mentioned that the diesel fuel is not being burned completely due to low engine temperature? Well not only does this lead to more exhaust but it also leads to increased soot and remaining fuel to clog throughout the engine. These clogs could center around seals, rings, and other critical areas. These clogs do not just go away either. They will be there until you correct the situation. The good news is if this does occur on your machine you can clear this soot and fuel out of your system by running at or near maximum load for a few hours. This is when your generator is most efficient and this extra soot/fuel will end up being burned away due to the increased temperature flowing through the system.

The other big con here when running these systems at low load is the oil. Again, when ran at these low load amounts your engine runs at low temperatures which results in the contaminants accumulating throughout your system. On top of these contaminants clogging parts of the engine they also can end up getting mixed in with the engine’s oil. This will result in the oil being burnt off and increased wear on the engine due to low lubrication. As we all know, having proper oil levels for an engine is critical for operation. If your oil is being burnt up you will not only see the white smoke we discussed earlier but also a bluish smoke as well. Lastly, if you begin to see black smoke form then the fuel injectors are getting damaged as well due to no lubrication.

Conclusion

While all of the above are consequences that can occur when running your generator on low load there are also impacts that you will see when using your generator. These can be intermittent power losses and or poor performance from the machine. Eventually you will see parts of the generator fail and need to be replaced or maintenanced. If the unit is continually run at low load then the generator will eventually need to be completely replaced.

In conclusion, do NOT run your generator on load low. It is not good for your machine and will only result in further trouble down the road. I hope this article was able to answer your questions folks. Lastly, please note that this article is intended for informational purposes only. We here at ToughAssTools are not liable for any property damage or personal injuries that can occur when operating generators.

Thanks for reading,

Alec Johnson

ToughAssTools

 

Question

Hello folks and welcome to ToughAssTools.com. Today we are going to be covering the various types of extension cords that can be used with your portable generators. Personally, I have always been a fan of generators. They are a versatile tool that can be used in so many applications such as RVing, camping, or during a power loss event. I’m from a ways outside of the Kansas City area and we get quite a bit of power losses during the spring and winter months. Winter due to blizzards and spring due to tornado and severe storm season. Whatever the cause is I know that I have my generator ready to go in case the power goes out.

While generators are a great tool they are not always the easiest to get setup and start running. If done correctly then you are the hero of the family and have brought power for everyone. However, if done incorrectly then there can be dire consequences. Best case you damage the generator or some electronics/appliances within your home. Worst case, you start a fire or a carbon monoxide leak.

Generator safety is no laughing matter. In this article I won’t get into every little detail on generator safety but instead focus on the question at hand. If you’d like to read more on generator safety please click here to be taken to our safety guide.

Extension Cords

It seems nothing is simple. Most people would think that when using a generator all you would need is a simple extension cord that can be found around in your garage or basement. It is not that easy though folks. No, in order to safely use generators you need to be using the right type of cord. Using the wrong cord can result in damage to the generator or the appliance/electronic in your home. If left running for a significant time this could eventually create a fire due to the cord overheating.

When selecting an extension cord for your generator there are three main factors that you need to consider:

  1. Length
  2. Gauge
  3. Type of Connection

Gauge

Out of the three considerations to look for when purchasing an extension cord gauge is the most important in my opinion. Extension cords contain copper wire in the center that can vary in overall thickness. A cord’s gauge is a rating of the copper wire’s diameter. This is identified by what is known as the American Wire Gauge number (AWG). You will notice that when looking at cords you’ll see a ‘AWG’ number next to it. This is your gauge.

The most common AWG sizes that you will find are sixteen, fourteen, twelve, ten, and eight. Now this part can be a bit confusing, but the higher number AWG cords are not the most powerful. In fact in the example cords we mentioned above the AWG eight has the thickest wire. Now the more power you plan to run through your generator then the smaller gauge you need. If you try to run an appliance with an extension cord with too high of a gauge then the cord will become hot and could even result in a fire.

Not all of this can be done by feel or by visual inspection. In many cases you can find wire that appears to be thicker then others but this is actually just the outside covering. To be absolutely sure it is best to read the label on the product to fully understand what gauge it is. The key rule here to remember is that as long as your generator does NOT exceed the maximum AMPs for your cord’s wire then you will be ok. (Unless you are dealing with a very long wire which we will get into in our next section.) When looking at wire you may not even see the gauge on there but instead see an amperage rating. This is functionally telling you the same thing.

I mentioned that you cannot exceed the maximum AMPs rated for your wire. The National Electric Code administration provides a maximum AMP rating per wire gauge. Let’s look at them now:

  • 16 AWG = 10 AMPs Maximum
  • 14 AWG = 15 AMPs Maximum
  • 12 AWG = 20 AMPs Maximum
  • 10 AWG = 30 AMPs Maximum

So, again, looking at the maximum AMPs you just need to ensure that the wire you have chosen does not exceed the outlet on your generator. In most cases you will find the generator’s amperage output right next to the outlet. As an example, if we look at this Westinghouse Generator on Amazon we can see that it has a 20A outlet AND a 30A outlet. In this example the safest approach would be to purchase a ten gauge wire to ensure we can cover the maximum thirty amperage.

Now typically, we recommend going with a twelve gauge wire extension cord. Most of the time this will cover your standard portable generators. But, like in the example above, when you get to more powerful generators you will also need more powerful wires. In some heavier load cases it may make sense to purchase a ten gauge cord. Just note that as you go down on gauge sizes the cords can get quite expensive. In extreme cases you can find eight gauge cords, but these will be rarer and a lot more pricey.

Length

The length of your extension cord is very important. The first rule here is to NEVER use a cord longer then what you need. All electrical wires/cords carry resistance. This resistance can lower the volts or juice that flows through the cord. The longer the cord the more resistance there is. This is why it is best practice to use a cord that has the best length for your situation. With longer cords you will need to go down in gauge just to get the same type of power.

As an example, let’s say you are trying to power your refrigerator that requires around twenty-four hundred watts. If your generator is less then fifty feet away from the refrigerator you could get away with using a AWG 14 cord. BUT, if your over fifty feet then you are going to have to go down in AWG size to a twelve or even a ten depending on the length. This is also why we suggested going with the twelve gauge wire just to be safe.

When powering your home or even your RV the generator should be twenty feet away from your domicile. This will prevent carbon monoxide from leaking into your home. Trust me, you do not want that. Camping isn’t as big of a deal as you are in an open area but I would still recommend that twenty feet distance. Now most generator extension cords come in twenty-five feet or fifty feet sizes. In most cases the twenty-five foot length will be optimal for your situation.

Type of Connection

This may seem like common sense but when purchasing your generator’s extension cord you need to make sure that it can actually plug-in into your generator and to the receiving outlet as well. There are a variety of possible connections out there. In my opinion it is best to physically check your generator to determine exactly what type of connection that you need. This will save you the trouble of purchasing the cord with the wrong connection port.

There is a type of generator cord out there that can connect to the generator and then split at the other end into three or four one-hundred and twenty volt outlets. These can then be plugged into various appliances electronics into your home. I like these a lot as it save you time from having to route multiple wires throughout your home. Our recommended product is this ten gauge wire from Champion Brands. It comes with three outlets on the receiving end.

Transfer Switches

Another point of note while we are on this topic is if you are going to be using your generator to power your home during a power loss then I am going to recommend having a manual transfer switch installed on your circuit board. These transfer switches allows you to easily switch your home’s power source from the city over to your generator.

The reason this is so important is that it allows you to only have ONE point of connection to plug your generator into. In other words, you do not have to route a bunch of cords all over the place to power multiple appliances or electronics. With a transfer switch you route one cord from your generator over to the transfer switch. Then flip the power over and you’re ready to go. This is much easier and overall safer then routing multiple cords throughout your home.

The downside here folks is that a manual transfer switch is not an easy install. In most cases you will need to pay an electrician to install the transfer switch. The good news is after the initial install all you have to do is connect the generator and flip the switch and bam you have power to your home!

Conclusion

Well there you have it folks. Extension cords do matter and can have a large impact on not only your generator but also your safety. I hope this article was able to answer your question.

I will leave you with some closing notes please ensure to always start your generator before you begin plugging cords into it. This will add longevity to your generator and prevent damage from occurring. Also, watch your generator cord for any signs of the cord becoming warm, very warm, or hot. These are signs of the cord not able to handle the electrical load. The same thing applies if you notice the circuit breaking tripping.

Lastly, please note that this article is intended for informational purposes only. We here at ToughAssTools are not liable for any property damage or personal injuries that can occur when operating generators.

Thanks for reading,

Alec Johnson

ToughAssTools

Question

Hello folks, and welcome to ToughAssTools.com. Today we will be taking a look at exactly what kind of generator and how large of a generator you will need to power your refrigerator or your freezer. A power loss event is never a fun time but it can be made worse if you are in a warm climate or if it is in the summer months. I live someways outside of the Kansas City area out in the country. We can experience a power loss in the winter months due to ice storms or blizzards. But, these are never too bad as if the power is out for a long time we can just throw the perishable food outside in the snow and ice. The food will stay preserved in the cold.

Obviously, this is not the same story in spring and summer. Kansas is in Tornado Alley and I’ve seen my fair share of extreme storms. Many times these storms can knock out power for a few hours or in some cases a few days. Preserving your food outside is out of the question as temperatures here can reach ninety or even one-hundred degrees on certain days. We have a deep freezer as well so at any given time we could have a couple hundred dollars worth of meat and other perishables.

To keep from spoiling and having to throw out all of this product we purchased a portable generator. It allows us to continually power the appliances until power is switched back on. The question though is what kind of generator should you be purchasing? What size is needed to power these types of appliances?

Starting Watts, Running Watts, and Manual Transfer Switches

Before I get into the sizing and generator requirements I  want to make sure that you understand a few things. The first is what’s known as starting watts and running watts. In order to size your generator right you need to determine everything that you want to power. Once you have your list you then need to add up all of the required watts to power all of these things. A key part of this calculation is knowing the difference between starting watts and running watts.

Not everything you plug into a generator will have these but you will find them more common with larger appliances. A starting watt is a measurement of how much power an appliance needs to turn on. Running watts is a measurement of how much power that same unit needs to run. So, as an example, you will see that a refrigerator will have a significantly higher starting watts number due to the compressor having to be turned on. The compressor is necessary to begin the refrigeration cycle. Once the compressor is turned on then the required wattage will shrink back down to a constant running watt number.

This is why it is so important to calculate your required wattage based off of the starting watt number and not the running watts. Many machines/appliances require more power to start. If you fail to calculate these then you could end up buying a generator that does not provided enough power for your needs.

Another point I want to make in this section is the concept of a manual transfer switch. What these will do is hook up directly to your circuit board. Once installed it will give you the option to physically switch your home’s power away from the city and over to your generator. These are not an easy install and it is recommended that you hire a professional electrician to assist you. These transfer switches are not always necessary though.

Ask yourself a few questions before considering a transfer switch. Will you only be powering a few things during your power loss such as a refrigerator, computer, and phone? If so, then it is probably not worth your time to install a transfer switch. You can make due with the extension cord method run from your generator. However, if you are attempting to power your whole home, an air conditioner/furnace, or any other hard wired appliance then a manual transfer switch is a must.

Refrigerators & Freezers

Now that we’ve got the first section out of the way we can begin to answer your question. Just like most things with generators there is no perfect answer here. This is because each refrigerator and freezer can vary from other models or manufacturers. What that means is that you could see drastically different starting watts and or running watts. This is why it is so important to check the owner’s manual or even the label on your refrigerator/freezer to ensure that you are looking at the exact amount of starting/running watts that you need.

In some cases you will not see watts in the manual/label. You can still calculate wattage though if you are able to find the Amps and the VAC (Volt AC Power). All you need to do is multiply these two numbers together to get your required wattage. For example, if a refrigerator has 7.10 amps and 115 VAC then the total watts required are 816. Once you find the total wattage required it is always the best approach to go much higher then you need. So, in the case of the example above where you need around eight-hundred watts I would recommend getting a two-thousand watt generator. This covers your bases and also allows you to power other items if the need arises.

As I had mentioned earlier, the actual wattage can vary from each appliance. However, to give you an estimate on what you can expect and what kind of generator you should be purchasing I have found some average watts for refrigerators. This was a bit tricky as during my research I found some folks stating that the eight-hundred to twelve-hundred watts were about average for most refrigerators. On the other hand I found other articles stating that fifteen-hundred to twenty-five hundred will cover most refrigerators/freezers. These differences could be running watts versus starting watts, or something else entirely. It is difficult to say.

To ere on the side of caution I am going to recommend the higher average wattage. You can harm your generator if you try to power an appliance that requires more power. But if your generator has surplus power then it is not big deal. This is why it is safer to go off of the twenty-five hundred watt number. Using that number as our base I am going to recommend that we go with either a four-thousand or five-thousand watt generator. This will give enough power to get the refrigerator up and running as well as other appliances or electronics. Here at ToughAssTools we recommend the Westinghouse Generator brand. They’re a high quality branded generator that has been around for a long time. In most cases this will get you power for your refrigerator, just keep in mind that there are always exceptions and some refrigerators/freezers may require more then this. Always check your labels!

For those of you who have a refrigerator and a deep freeze then you’re going to need to factor them both in when calculating total wattage required. Keep in mind the starting watts as well. Freezers average right around the same as a refrigerator so at a minimum you’re going to need around five-thousand watts to power both. The generator we linked above would cover you in these situations. If you were running tight on wattage on your generator then you could start up the refrigerator first, wait some time, and then start up the freezer. What this does is use up the starting watts on the refrigerator first and then it transitions over to running watts. You can then turn on the freezer and use starting watts there. This allows you to stagger the plugging in of appliances and prevents you from having a whole bunch of starting watts at once.

Conclusion

So folks to answer your question, yes, portable generators can power your refrigerator, freezer, or both at the same time. It is all a matter of how much wattage these appliances need and how much wattage your generator can produce. The two big takeaways from this article are: You have to determine the actual starting watts of your appliance not just the running watts. Without factoring in the starting watts then you risk buying too small of a generator.

The second takeaway is that I provided you with an average wattage for these appliances. These are guideline numbers that I purposely inflated so that you would be covered. I cannot provide you with the exact wattage that your appliance needs. That part is up to you. You need to review the instruction manual. Look at the label on the back of the refrigerator/freezer. If you can’t find either then search online for the model, manufacturer, and owner’s manual. In most cases you should be able to find the manual. If none of this works then you can contact the manufacturer for the information.

Lastly, please note that this article is intended for informational purposes only. We here at ToughAssTools are not liable for any property damage or personal injuries that can occur when operating generators.

Thanks for reading,

Alec Johnson

ToughAssTools

Question

Portable generators are one of those things that you never really think about it until the time you need one. When hurricanes roll through or when a blizzard blankets your town and drops the power you need an alternative solution. When my wife was younger her and her family would have their power knocked out by a storm. While we have all experienced this before, what was unusual was they sometimes had to wait one or two weeks for it to be hooked up again. Depending on where you live or who lives with you, having your power out for two weeks isn’t just uncomfortable. It can be a matter of life and death.

While generators can give us this emergency power that we need it is often the case that users of these machines don’t know the first thing about them. This can result in injuries, electrocution, or worse. In an effort to educate those of you out there we here at ToughAssTools have taken the time to write this short article to answer some of your questions.

Grounding

When working with portable generators there are many risks. In this section we are going to focus on the electrocution risk of not grounding your generator. Grounding your generator allows excess electricity to be displaced and prevents users from accidentally shocking or electrocuting themselves. Depending on your system you may need a grounding rod. A grounding rod is a long copper rod that measures eight feet in length. It is usually recommended for it to be at or over five eights inches in diameter.

Now, don’t be fooled into thinking that all generators need grounding rods. That is not the case. There are considerations that have to be taken. Basically, it boils down to two main checks:

  1. How are you using your generator? If you plan to be plugging appliances directly into your generator using extension cords then you do NOT need to ground your unit as long as you meet the criteria from step two.
  2. Ok, the second check that you need to look over is that all components of the generator are bonded to the generator’s frame. This includes your fuel tank, your engine, the generator’s housing, and the power receptacles.

If your generator meets the above conditions then you are OK to move forward without using a grounding rod. This is because the generator’s frame replaces the grounding rod. (That is why we checked if every component was bonded to the frame.) So, if your errant electricity exists it will be grounded by your generator’s frame. If these conditions do NOT exist then a grounding rod will be required in order to safely run your generator and prevent injury.

Also, there is another exception that is very important. If your generator meets the above conditions BUT your system is plugged directly into your home’s circuit breaker via a manual transfer switch or if it’s connected directly to a building then you are required to have a grounding rod.

If you are unsure exactly if you need a grounding rod for your generator then I would highly recommend consulting with a trained electrician. Remember folks, it’s better to be safe then sorry. For more information on grounding your generator click here to be taken to OSHA’s guide on grounding your generators.

Conclusion

Well folks, I hope that this was able to answer your question and if it did not hopefully it at least pointed you in the right direction. For more information and best practices when using a generator you can check out our Generator Safety Guide by clicking here. The guide goes over all of the Do’s and Don’ts of setting up and running your generator.

Also, because of the nature of this topic I have to put a legal disclaimer here stating that ToughAssTools is not liable nor responsible for any damage, injury, or other events due to this article. This article is advice. If you are unsure on what to do when using your generator Please Please Please consult a trained professional for a consultation.

Thanks for reading,

Alec Johnson

ToughAssTools

Hello folks and welcome to ToughAssTools.com! Today we will be taking a look at what it takes to run your air conditioner during a power loss event. To me, losing power during the summer is the worst. At least in the winter months you can start a fire. You can put your frozen food outside in the snow. You’re not uncomfortable and food isn’t going to waste. However, in the summer it is a completely different story.

I live a hundred miles or so outside of Kansas City out in the boonies. Power loss can happen quite a bit out here. When it does it’s either from winter blizzards or from severe summer storms. (We are in Tornado Alley after all.) Kansas summers can be quite brutal. As I write this article it is August and today’s high is one-hundred and one with high humidity. A power loss today would not be optimal. The house would warm up in only a few hours.

Having a generator on hand and ready to go can solve this problem. That being said, powering your air conditioner with a generator is a lot more complicated then powering your computer or lights. Air conditioners require a lot of power to run and if you’re not careful you can end up purchasing a generator that simply doesn’t have the capacity to handle an air conditioner.

Starting Watts, Running Watts, & Transfer Switches

Before I get into the various types of air conditioners out there I first want to make sure you understand some variables. There is a lot of math involved with generators. When working with them it is important to know the amount of starting watts and running watts of the appliance you are attempting to power. Not all things you’re looking to power have starting watts, but the ones that do you need to add them in your calculation.

Starting watts are just that. It is a measurement of the amount of power to start an appliance. In many cases a larger appliance will have a significantly higher amount of starting watts when turned on. An example of this would be a refrigerator, or an air conditioner. Both of these appliances have refrigeration cycles to produce a cold environment. A key component in this refrigeration cycle is the air conditioning compressor. The compressor requires an initial surge of power to kick it on. But, once it has been turned on the amount of power it needs lessens.

This is why it is critical to include starting watts in your calculations. If you glanced at your air conditioner and saw it only needed ten-thousand running watts but neglected to check the starting watts then you could end up buying the wrong sized generator. Again, it is always best to overestimate the generator size then under.

Another point I want to make in this section is the concept of a manual transfer switch. There are many different types of air conditioners out there. You could be facing a completely different setup depending on your air conditioner. A good example of this would be a window air conditioner versus a central air system. As you know, a window air conditioner simply plugs into your standard wall socket. In the event of a power loss it can be plugged into your generator via extension cord. Nothing changes here.

A central air system is different. The central air conditioner is connected directly to your circuit box. In most cases it has its own circuit switch. There is NOT a way for you to simply plug this air conditioner into your generator. This is where a manual transfer switch will come in handy. The concept here is that when your power goes out you can go to your circuit box and switch off the power from the city and switch over to your alternative generator power source. This allows you to power EVERYTHING on your circuit box.

The downside of these transfer switches is that they have to be installed and configured. I do not have the knowledge to do this and I am assuming most of you do not either. To be absolutely safe it is best to hire an electrician to do this install for you. The good news is that once it is done then you have one less thing to worry about during a power loss event.

Types of Air Conditioners

Alright so now we can get into the meat and potatoes of this article. I’ll be the first to tell you that air conditioners and everything that goes with them is a passion of mine. Yes, I know, it is a strange passion to have. It all stems from another website that I created known as https://refrigeranthq.com/ . The site is completely dedicated to air conditioners and refrigerants. So, I consider myself a bit of an expert on the various types of air conditioners.

Now the question posed at the top of this article is can my generator run an air conditioner? To answer that we have to determine exactly what type of air conditioner we are dealing with. Is it a central air? Is it a mini-split? Portable? Window? Each one of these applications can impact my answer.

Central Air Conditioners

Most homes or apartments nowadays come with central air conditioners. Well, this holds true in my neck of the woods in the Midwest. I know in certain parts of the country central air systems are the exception. My brother, for example, lives in Seattle and they had to go out and buy a window unit the other day as their home has no central system. It got him through in a pinch. Personally, I’ve always been a fan of central air systems. They are efficient, clean, and neat.

That being said… when it comes to alternative power there is a big downside to central systems. A central air conditioner consumes and requires a lot of power. They also come with a significant amount of starting watts just to get the machine up and running. Most residential central air conditioner systems range between one to five ton. Ton is a measurement of the cooling capacity of the air conditioner. You may also see these measured in BTUs. Just for your reference, one ton equals twelve-thousand BTUs. A standard sized home is going to be using either a three ton or four ton central system. Some of the larger homes out there may use a five ton or may end up having two three or four ton units installed.

What does all this mean when it comes to powering with your generator? Well folks, you are going to be hard pressed finding a portable generator that can power a central air system. In fact, as a rule of thumb if you have a central air system that needs powered then you should be looking at a standby generator rather then a portable. Standby generators are a permanently installed unit on the outside of your home that will turn on automatically in the event of a power loss. They are MUCH bigger and can produce a lot more power. In many cases folks will route these directly to their propane tank.

I mentioned before that I live out in the boonies, well like most folks out here we have a propane tank that we use for heating, cooking, and water heating. It is an eight-hundred gallon tank that we would fill up once a year. A standby generator can be tied directly into this propane tank or you could also opt for getting the generator its own separate propane tank. My parents did this with theirs and they rarely have to fill it up at all.

The reason I push for a standby generator when it comes to central air conditioners is that you are going to be hard pressed finding a portable generator that has enough power to run your central air system. Let’s look at some numbers to illustrate the point here. A three ton air conditioner will need a minimum of thirteen-thousand watts to run. A four ton unit will need seventeen-thousand, and a five ton unit will need twenty-thousand watts.

The closest portable generator I could find on this topic was this twelve-thousand watt unit from Westinghouse. It is a massive portable generator that can produce a lot of power… but you’ll notice that we are still one-thousand watts shy of the three ton thirteen-thousand watt requirement. You’ll also notice the price on this. It’s over two-thousand dollars. That is a huge investment and frankly, if it was me, I’d rather invest in a full standby system and know that it is setup and ready to go. You’ll also get the reassurance that you will have enough power to run everything in your home. Also, if you’re going to be spending that kind of money on a generator it might as well be a standby.

If you have your heart set on a portable system though then you can look around for larger units. You may even look at your central air conditioner to find the precise starting/running watts. All I can say is do not hold your breath. Chances are you’ll need to go with a standby system. Or, you can look purchasing a window or portable air conditioner as an alternative solution. We’ll get into these in our next section.

Window/Portable Air Conditioners

I feel like over the years the window air conditioning unit has gotten a bad wrap. I’m not really sure where it comes from but there appears to be a certain stigma attached to them. Some say they don’t look good or they lower the quality of the house. Whatever the reason is, the thinking exists. I have to say that I do NOT agree with this at all. Window air conditioners are a lifesaver and can give even the poorest person a way to get nice cool air. You can find a bare bone window unit for under two-hundred dollars. (Example being this Amazon Basics one). The install on a window unit doesn’t take much time at all either. On the smaller units you don’t even need brackets installed.

I also like to link portable air conditioners in with the window units. They are both great appliances that provide cool air at a low price point. Portable units have an even easier install. Just route the tube to a nearby window, put up the frame, and there you go. You have cool air now. I had mentioned in the central air section that these air conditioners are a great substitute for when your central air is down. It will save you from having to buy a large standby generator or a very large portable generator.

Now, just like with central systems, window/portable air conditioners come in different sizes. You’ll notice that these aren’t measured in tons but instead of BTUs. This is because in most cases portable/window units do not exceed the twelve-thousand BTU threshold to equal one ton. An entry level window/portable air conditioner is going to come in at around five-thousand BTUs. These types of air conditioners will have a surging wattage at around fifteen-hundred and a standard running watt range of about one-thousand.  These five-thousand BTU units are a great solution for air conditioning during a power loss or even during an RV or camping trip. At most you are using fifteen-hundred watts.  If you have a four or five-thousand watt generator then you have plenty of extra wattage to cover other areas such as lighting, computers, or a refrigerator or freezer.

On the other hand, if you have a ten-thousand BTU air conditioner you are working with then the required wattage is going to be significantly higher. As you would expect, it is about double at around twenty-five hundred starting watts and around two-thousand running watts. Note that the above values are estimates based on air conditioner BTUs. Each air conditioner is different and it is always best practice to check the air conditioner owner’s manual to find the exact electrical information. This will ensure that you know what you’re getting into.

Mini Split Air Conditioners

The last mainstream air conditioner to mention are what’s known as the ductless mini-splits. I love these types of air conditioners as they provide air conditioning to homes that do not have duct work. Yes, the portable/window air conditioners do this as well, but a mini-split system offers far more power then these other portable air conditioners. It also allows you to have various zones throughout the home whereas a portable only provides cold air in one specific area.

Mini split systems are the in between a portable unit and a central duct system. Because of this you will notice the BTUs and the power required to run mini splits can be quite high… but not quite as high as a central air system. These ductless systems typically come in a one ton, one and a half ton, two ton, and three ton sizes. If you recall in our central air conditioner section we stated that a three ton unit is typically what most homes use. Since the ductless systems start with a one ton size you should be able to get away with a portable generator with these appliances, but again remember that it is a case by case basis.

Conclusion

Well folks, I do have to apologize for the length of this article. I can get a bit carrier away with topics like these, but I do hope that I was able to provide you with the answers that you were looking for. Like so many things there is no easy answer… instead many factors have to be considered. Lastly, please note that this article is intended for informational purposes only. We here at ToughAssTools are not liable for any property damage or personal injuries that can occur when operating generators.

Thanks for reading,

Alec Johnson

ToughAssTools

Question

Generators can be a life saver in extreme situations. I live outside of the Kansas City area and am right in the middle of Tornado Alley. That means every April, May, and June we get severe thunderstorms. I’ve only seen a few tornadoes in my forty years but what I have seen is countless power loss after a severe storm passes through. To top it all off we get blizzards and ice storms in the winter here as well. In some cases these power losses can last for a few days. The worst one I’ve been through was over a week. I am no stranger when it comes to power loss.

Having a portable generator in these situations can make a miserable experience into a tolerable one. Even if it is just getting a few appliances back on like your fridge or freezer… it can make a big difference. The question is when using these portable generators how long can they run for? Are you OK to run one of these generators overnight? Before I answer this question I first want to make sure that we’re following proper safety protocol.

Never, under any circumstances, should you run a generator in your closet, garage, or anywhere near your home. This is a gas powered engine. That means it produces Carbon Monoxide just like your car would. You need to ensure this Monoxide has a viable escape path to open air. The second point is NEVER back feed the generator into your home. This is very dangerous and can actually result in fire or even an explosion. The danger occurs when the power company turns the electricity back on. The moment that happens you now have two different power sources flowing into your home. This will result in an overload which can result in your generator catching on fire… and even exploding if the fire ruptures the gas tank. This is NOT something to play around with.

Can I Run my Generator Overnight?

Alright folks, now that we’ve got the safety concerns out of the way let’s really look at your question. To put the answer simply, yes. Yes, you can run a portable generator overnight.

That being said it gets a bit more complicated then that. Not all generators are equal. What I mean by that is that you will find some generators are only rated for a few hours of continuous usage whereas others can run for days. Now, obviously the continuous use ones are going to be more expensive… so be prepared for that. Another limitation here is the size of the fuel tank. Obviously, the generator will not run overnight if you run out of gas in the middle of the night. So, you will need a unit with a decent sized fuel tank as well.

Here at ToughAssTools we typically recommend the Westinghouse WGen generator models. You’ll find all kinds of models if you click that link. As to which one you’ll need it all depends on how much you want to run when your power is down and the starting/surging watts on each of those appliances. For more information on sizing your generator click here to visit our guide. When reviewing the available Westinghouse models pay extra attention to the size of the fuel tank and the expected run time. For example, the WGen5300s comes with a 4.7 gallon fuel tank with an estimated run time of thirteen and a half hours. Whereas the WGen12000 comes with a 10.5 gallon fuel tank but has a run time of only ten and a half hours.

If it was me selecting a generator to run overnight I would look for models that have a minimum of ten to twelve hour run time. There are models out there that state up to eight hours… but that is the maximum rating. Variables could occur or the unit could lose efficiency over time and you could run out of juice in the middle of the night. That is why it is suggested to go a bit over the estimated hours. Better to over shoot then under.

The other key factor when running your generator overnight is the weather. Firstly, your generator should be placed away from your house on a flat surface that ideally has a ceiling. This could be with a custom two or three sided shelter to protect the generator. Or, in emergency situations, it could be under a tarp. Either way, you need to protect the generator from rain. Water on a running engine that is producing power is NOT a good combination.

This ties into my previous point. If your generator is protected from the rain but there is a severe storm rolling through it is still not a good idea to run the generator. An example would be here in Kansas we have a lot of ‘wind storms.’ These are basically straight line winds with very little rain. The generator is not in danger from water… but if that generator was blown over by the wind then a fire could start. Always better to be safe then sorry.

Lastly, please note that you cannot refuel your generator while it is running. Yes, I know this sounds like an obvious statement but I need to ensure that everyone is protected. As I stated before, these generators are an engine. They are burning fuel. Adding more fuel to a running engine is not a good idea. The safest way to do this is turn the generator off and then wait for the entire unit to cool down. Otherwise, there is risk of ignition.

Conclusion

Now that I have bored you with my big long answer we can wrap this up. Yes you can run a generator overnight. Just be sure to follow our guidelines we mentioned above. I know that this seemed like a rather simple question but like with so many things concerning generators there is much more happening behind the scenes. It is very rare that we can offer a simple yes or no. There always has to be more details. Either way, I hope this article helped you out.

Thanks for visiting,

Alec Johnson

ToughAssTools.com

Question

Losing your power unexpectedly is never something fun to go through. This holds true even more if you are in the middle of a natural disaster like a hurricane, severe storm, or blizzard. When this event does occur many folks are left wondering if a portable generator will be the answer to all of their problems. Will the portable generator get them up and running? Or, will there be appliances/items in the home that will not be able to be powered until electricity is restored?

In this article we are going to explore if it is possible to power your entire home using a portable generator. In order to answer this question though we need to determine a couple of things. The first is how long do you expect your power to be out? Keep in mind that portable generators are not meant to run for days on end. If you are looking at an extended power loss, or you live in an area that is prone to these extended timelines, then it may make sense to look at a stationary generator.

The second point to mention here is how big is your home? Is it a moderate size of a thousand square feet up to say eighteen hundred? Or, is it much larger? Does your home have a central air conditioner? Multiple refrigerators? A furnace? Dehumidifier? All of these factors add complexity to our original question. Each one of these can add more watts to your home’s total power requirement. On top of that some of these appliances are hardwired into your homes circuit breaker. What that means is that they are not simply plugged in.

Normally when you run a portable generator you run extension cords from the generator into your home so that your appliances can be plugged in. This works for your refrigerator, freezer, computers, phone chargers, etc. However, how does this work with your furnace? There is no way for you to plug your furnace in. This is where it gets a bit complicated. A standard sized portable generator is not going to work.

There is however the option to have a manual transfer switch installed in your breaker box. What this will do is it will allow you to flip your home’s power source away from the city’s power and over to your generator’s power. This is the ONLY way to do this. You may hear stories of some folks backfeeding their generators into their homes… but this is a huge mistake. Having a manual transfer switch installed by a professional is the only way to go.

With manual transfer switches you will now be able to power some of the hardwired appliances in your home like the furnace. The downside here is that your portable generator will need to be more powerful then your standard camping generator. In cases where you want to power your furnace and other large appliances you will need ten-thousand watts or more. When you get to this size your choices are limited. There are only so many portable generators at this wattage size and their price is significantly higher then your standard units.

Conclusion

Ok folks, it boils down to two main points here. The first is if you want to have lights in your home, the refrigerator running, and maybe your phone charging then a portable generator is the best bet. You don’t even need to go with the big dogs ten-thousand watt units. You should be fine to hover between a six to nine-thousand watt size, but it is always safest to calculate the total wattage you will need. Remember as well the manual transfer switch can help you prevent moving and plugging in extension cords everywhere, but these are best to be installed by professionals.

The second point is if you truly wish to power everything in your home then I would suggest going with a stationary generator. Yes a stationary generator is going to cost you more… but in the long run it is the best decision. It gives you longevity, efficiency, and my favorite part… automation. If the power does go out then it can flicker right back on once your standby turns on automatically. No having to roll out the portable unit, get it setup, and go through that whole ordeal.

So, to answer your question… no. I would state that a portable generator cannot power your entire home. It can however provide you a good alternative and power some larger appliances enough to get you buy.

Thanks for reading,

Alec Johnson

RefrigerantHQ

 

Generators rather they be portable or standby are a great tool to have at your disposal. Rather you are on a camping trip and needing some power for your flood lights, or if you stuck at home during a blizzard and your power goes out. Whatever the situation is generators are there and are able to provide you that power when it is most needed. Over the past few weeks we here at ToughAssTools have dedicated article after article to generators. Our goal here is to find out everything there is about them. In this section we will be an answering the common question of: What Happens if I Overload My Generator?

Watts, Running Watts, & Starting Watts

To answer this question we first have to do a short explanation of watts, running watts, and starting watts. I’m sure most of you are already familiar with what watts are. Watts are a unit of measurement when it comes to power or electricity. The larger the number the more power it has or needs. Generators can range from five-hundred watts all the way up to forty-thousand watts. It all depends on what you need your generator for. Depending on your needs you may only need a small or medium sized or you may need something to power your whole home. In order to determine this we need to understand what running watts and starting watts are.

Running watts are a measurement of how many watts your generator can sustain continuously. In other words, this your standard measurement. Let’s say you have a few appliances that you want to hook up to your generator and they total about two-thousand watts. These could be a coffee maker, a laptop, and a few phone chargers. Nothing major. In this instance the two-thousand watts would be your running or continuous watt measurement. The amount of watts required doesn’t change, it is a constant.

Starting watts, or surge watts, are a bit different. These typically apply on larger appliances like your refrigerators, air conditioners, furnaces, or power tools. Typically, when there is a motor involved then the appliance will have starting watts. These appliances have both starting watts and running watts. When the appliance initially turns on there is significant power needed to start the motor up. This extra power dissipates after a few seconds as the motor gets moving, but this extra wattage is needed in order to power on the machine. This ‘extra’ power is known as starting watts. As an example, if we look at Westinghouse’s WGen7500 portable generator on Amazon by clicking here we can see that it’s running watts are seventy-five hundred and the starting or surge watts are at ninety-five hundred. This is a great example as it states the running and starting (peak) watts right in the description of the product.

Overloading Your Generator

Ok folks, so now that we know the differences between these wattage measurements we can begin to understand how your generator can be overloaded. The first and most logical way for an overload to occur is exceeding the running watts of your generator. Yes, as we mentioned above, an appliance with starting watts DOES exceed the running watts but it is important to note that starting watts are a temporary need. They only last for a few seconds then the appliances tapers back down to running watts. An overload  can occur when having numerous appliances plugged into your generator that exceed the total running watts. It doesn’t matter if you are still below the starting watts. Remember, starting watts are temporary and your generator can only produce them for so long. After enough time has passed the generator will overload and either shut off due to the circuit breaker, or if  it doesn’t have a circuit breaker then it will keep running and eventually overheat which could lead to a fire. Starting watts are not meant to be sustained over long periods of time.

I mentioned the fire risk above but I’m going to expand on it a bit further here. If your generator is not protected against an overload by using a circuit breaker, then the system will eventually overheat. Depending on the length of the overheating the unit could eventually catch on fire. If this fire gets close enough to the gas tank then you could have a rupture or explosion. This can end very badly and there are documented cases of people burning their homes down by mistake due to this.

Even without the risk of fire though, running your generator hot or above capacity can burn out your alternator and other components of your generator which can significantly shorten the life of your system. Not only that but if the system is overload then you could have intermittent power which can damage any appliances directly plugged into your generator. It is very important to pay attention to the running and starting wattage of your generator and to not exceed it not only for safety’s sake but also to protect your wallet.

No matter what, generators cannot exceed their maximum wattage capacity. It will not happen. This capacity is based off of two things. The first is the capacity to generate electricity through the alternator. The second is the power of the engine that drives the alternator. Most generators do come with circuit breakers to limit excessive amounts of current. If after a few seconds of extra current then the circuit breaker will trip and shut down. This security allows starting watts to come through, but if the excess wattage lasts for more then a few seconds then the system trips and overloads. While your generator may survive being overloaded I cannot say the same thing about the appliances that are hooked up to it. It is best to to know exactly how many watts that you need before running your generator to ensure safety and to protect the generator as well as your appliances.

Conclusion

If you take anything from this article I hope that it is the importance of measuring how many starting and running watts you need for your generator. Once you have that number of required watts add an additional twenty or thirty percent just to give yourself some more leeway. If you have more questions on sizing your generator and what to look for then I suggest you visit our Generator Sizing Guide by clicking here. Also, if you are in the market for purchasing a generator then check out our ‘Best Generators’ guide by clicking here.

Remember folks, safety first when it comes to generators. While they can be great tools and can give you that needed power in hard times they can also be very dangerous. There are numerous injuries each year due to improper generator usage. If you are unsure on how to use a generator or how to set one up please check out our Safety Guide by clicking here.

Lastly, please note that this article is meant as advice and is for informational purposes only. We here at ToughAssTools are not liable for any property damage, injuries, or anything else when it comes to generator installation and usages.

Thanks for reading,

Alec Johnson

ToughAssTools

Question

Portable generators can be a lifesaver especially for those times when you suffer power loss during extreme weather. It could be a sweltering summer day in Kansas where the temperatures are over one-hundred degrees or it could be bone-chilling cold and snowy in northern Michigan. Whatever the reason for your power going out having a portable generator will allow you to get your lights and appliances back on.

The question though is a manual transfer switch necessary for your portable generator, or can you get your lights back on without worrying about it? Well folks, before I can answer that question there are some factors that we have to consider first.

Manual Transfer Switches

What will you be using your generator for in the event of a power loss? Now that may seem like a stupid question. Obviously, you are going to be using it to get your power back on, but the real heart of this question is what exactly do you want turned back on in your home? In our introduction we gave an example of a hot summer or a cold winter’s day. In both of these instances you want your air conditioner or furnace back up and running.

This is where things can get tricky. Let’s pretend that when your power goes out all you want back on is your refrigerator, a few lights, and maybe your television. In this case you do not need a manual transfer switch as all you have to do is route an extension cord from your generator over to the appliances. This is pretty straight forward. Where it gets tricky is when dealing with appliances that don’t directly plug into an outlet like your furnace or air conditioner. Instead, these are routed directly to your power panel.

Here is where your manual transfer switch will come into play. A transfer switch connects directly to your circuit box, or power panel, and will feed the electricity generated from your generator directly into your home. It is then up to you to determine which circuits you want to turn on and which you want to keep off. (This can be very important as you don’t want to add too much load to your generator and exceed the rated wattage.)

I won’t lie to you, transfer switches are expensive. Sometimes they are just as expensive as the generator itself. On top of that you have to pay for a professional installation from a trained electrician. Trust me, you don’t want to guess your way through this. It’s best to leave it to the professionals. That being said, keep in mind that you’ll have to pay for the switch and the install to get things working correctly.

In order to get around this extra cost some people take it upon themselves to backfeed their generator into their home. Backfeeding a generator is hooking the generator directly into an outlet of your home with a two male sided extension cord. I won’t get into all of the details on what happens when backfeeding, but if you want to learn more you can click here. What I will say is that backfeeding can be extremely dangerous for you, your neighbors, and electrical workers. The most common problem found with backfeeding your system is when the power from the grid comes back on. You now have two power sources running through your home with no circuit breaker to regulate. Eventually you will a get current overload which could lead to a fire.

A transfer switch actively prevents these problems by stopping power from the outside grid from getting into your home. This prevents the current overflow and also prevents a possible fire. It is the safest way to alternatively power your home.

Along with the safety bonus transfer switches also can make things much easier during a power loss event. Even if you do not plan to power on your furnace or air conditioner a transfer switch can still be quite useful by making things easy. If you wish to give power to your living room and living room only all you have to do is setup the generator, turn off all circuits on your power panel except the living room, and then transfer the power over to the generator. Now compare that to having to route wires and cords back and forth for each and everything you want turned back on.

Conclusion

Alright folks so now, hopefully, you have an idea if you need a transfer switch or not for your home. It basically boils down to if you want to power on larger appliances like furnaces or air conditioners, or if you want things to be easier to get back and running during a power loss. Will you pay the extra expense, or will you stick with a standard generator?

If you are not sure what size of generator you should purchase then I highly recommend taking a look at our sizing guide. This will walk you through on how to determine exactly what wattage that you need. Also, before setting up and running your generator it is best to consult our Generator Safety Guide by clicking here. This takes you through the Do’s and Dont’s of generator usage.

Lastly, is our disclaimer. I want to be clear that this article is meant for advice and for informational purposes only. We here at ToughAssTools are not liable for any financial loss, property damage, or injuries that can occur when working with and using generators.

Thanks for reading,

Alec Johnson

ToughAssTools

Question

Having a portable generator on hand during a serve storm, blizzard, or hurricane is great for peace of mind. If sometime during this storm your power goes out you can rest assured knowing that you have a backup source of power just waiting to be hooked up. But, the question is, are portable generators dangerous? Or, are they safe to use?

The answer to this question is rather simple. Yes, they are VERY dangerous if not setup and ran correctly. However, if handled correctly and safely then there is little danger. If handled incorrectly then the results can be catastrophic. There are many things that can go wrong when running generators such as carbon monoxide poisoning, fires, and electrocution.

The most common danger when using generators is carbon monoxide poisoning. This can occur when the generator’s exhaust is not properly vented. Remember folks, that generators should NEVER be run inside your home, your basement, or your garage. Generators have engines and engines create exhaust. Think of a generator as your car. You wouldn’t leave your car running in the garage, would you? The same principle applies for generators. Most people recommend setting your generator between fifteen to twenty feet away from your home. This is usually a safe distance. It is also good practice to have carbon monoxide detectors throughout your home just to be on the safe side.

For more information please check out our Generator Safety Guide by clicking here. This guide goes through the proper way to setup and run your generator. Lastly, please note that this article is intended for informational purposes only. We here at ToughAssTools are not liable for any property damage or personal injuries that can occur when operating generators.

Thanks for reading,

Alec Johnson
ToughAssTools