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The idea of RVing across the country has always appealed to me. When I was a child I lived many states away from my grandparents but that didn’t stop them from stopping by at least three or four times a year. Each time they would visit they would pull into our driveway with a big old motor home. It is something that has always stuck with me and something I hope to replicate when my wife and I are ready.

To prepare myself for future RV excursions I have been educating myself on the topic. If there is one thing I have learned over my life it is much easier to learn something if you attempt to teach it, or in this case, write about it. Research needs to be done. This research not only helps me learn but also allows me to create this article to hopefully help you as well. Today’s topic is focusing on RV and their batteries. Exactly how long will it take to charge your RV’s batteries up to full power? When should you charge these batteries? What can you expect?

How Long Does it Take?

Before we get into how long it will take to charge your batteries I first want to make the point that you should not let your batteries drain empty before charging. In fact, most folks recommend not letting them fall under fifty percent charge. During my reading I did find that some others stated that forty percent was as low as they were willing to go… but the consensus was fifty percent. To be safe though I would recommend staying at that fifty percent marker. There is a myth circling out there that you should not let the battery’s charge fall below eighty percent… but this is not true. You are fine until that fifty percent marker.

The batteries found within your RV are twelve volt. What a lot of folks do not know is that when fully charged these twelve volt batteries actually come in at 12.73 volts. The reason folks say to recharge when your batteries hit that fifty percent mark is when they reach this point they are now at 12.00 volts. If they fall under that fifty percent threshold their volts also fall under twelve volts. This could result in damage to the battery. An example of this type of damage is that if the battery is left at low charge or is completely drained for an extended period of time crystals can form on the plates of the battery. If these crystals remain without a recharge taking place then the battery is in essence ruined. This crystal forming process is called ‘Sulfation.’

Remember earlier how I said it was a fine line between the forty and fifty percent charge number? Well, it all boils down to how many volts your battery measures. If you are at twelve volts at a forty-five percent charge then you are OK. However, if you fall below that twelve volt threshold the a recharge is needed. “Volts on a battery can be measured by using a digital voltmeter. Set the tool to DC voltage and place the red lead on the positive terminal and the black lead on the negative terminal to read battery voltage.” (For more info on this, visit koa.com.)

Charging

The important thing to remember here is that there is no magic formula to discover how long it will take to recharge your batteries. There are just too many variables out there that can impact the length it takes to charge. A couple of examples of these variables are:

  1. How low is the charge on the batteries? Obviously it is going to take a shorter amount of time to charge your batteries if they are at seventy percent versus at forty percent.
  2. What else do you have running in your RV that is drawing power? It could be lights, refrigerator, electronics, or anything else. All of these require power and will draw power away from your batteries that need charging. Some folks go as far as switching their power inverter off to prevent any further power draw.
  3. Another big question is exactly HOW are you charging your batteries? There are a variety of ways to do this. We have provided a short list of these options below. They are ranked by the most recommended choice.
    1. Using your vehicle’s engine and alternator.
    2. Connecting to a shore power source at a camp-site. Typically a thirty or fifty amp plug-in.
    3. Connecting to a solar power generator.
    4. Connecting to a built-in or portable generator. Typically a thirty or fifty amp plug-in.
    5. Using an automotive battery charger
    6. Worst case, jumper cables.
  4. Each of the examples above can have different charge rates. The alternator in your RV can send a different amount then a generator can. In many cases generators can be bottle-necked based on the amperage limit of your converter. The converter is what converts the AC energy over to DC energy so your batteries can be charged.

With all of these variables in mind it is impossible to predict exactly how long it is going to take to charge your batteries. That being said we can still do our best here to provide you with an estimate, but it is only an estimate. Now most folks recommend charging your motor home’s batteries when they reach fifty percent charge. With that fifty percent charge in mind we can say that it will take anywhere from four hours all the way up to seven hours. If your battery is below that fifty percent threshold then you could be looking at ten hours or more to fully charge the batteries.

You can speed this charge rate up by reducing the number of things drawing power. Like we mentioned previously, turn off the lights. Turn off anything that is not absolutely necessary. The more you reduce the more power that is able to go towards charging your batteries. An important point to remember here is that batteries drain faster then you can charge them. So, if you have an excessive amount of power demand coming from your recreational vehicle AND you are trying to charge your batteries you may find that it very slow going. This is why many folks opt to charge their batteries overnight as there is much less demand.

From my research I have found that the most recommended approach is to charge your batteries via the vehicle’s engine and alternator. After all, it is a vehicle that you are charging so it would make sense that the tried and tested method that all of our vehicles use everyday would be the standard recommendation. That being said, it is not a recommend if you are camping as you do not want to idle for that long. This is where a generator or shore power connection would come in handy. Some folks swear by using an automotive battery charger, but I would advise against them unless you are in a desperate need.

Often times folks will stop charging once they reach a ninety percent charge. This is done as the amount of time it can take to charge from ninety to one-hundred percent can be significant. Experiment on your own setup but you may be able to reduce the amount of charge time by charging to ninety percent and calling it good. The last point to mention here is that faster is NOT better. A slow and steady charge is best for your batteries, if you rush it, or purchase products that promise a super-fast charge then be weary. If you charge these batteries too fast you could end up permanently damaging the battery.

Conclusion

Like with many things folks there is no clear-cut answer here. There are so many variables that have to be considered that it is difficult to gauge what you and your system’s needs are. The best way to do this is to go out there and try it for yourself. In many cases a controlled trial and error experiment is the best way to discover what is needed. When I say controlled I mean have a back-up plan ready in case something does go wrong. After a few experiments you should have a good idea of what it takes to charge your unit and this will allow you to plan your future camping trips with ease.

I hope this article was helpful and able to answer some of your questions. For some more reading on the topic I suggest visiting a few of the links below:

Thanks for reading,

Alec Johnson

ToughAssTools.com

Over the past few weeks here at ToughAssTools we have been focusing on portable and standby generators for home and commercial use. That’s how we work around here. We find a specific type of tool and then read, learn, and write everything we can about it. Today, with generators, we are going to focus on what’s known as Starting Watts and Running Watts. If you already own a generator or are familiar with the term already then this article may not be for you. However, if you are in the research stage of your purchase then I highly recommend you keep reading to ensure that you get a firm grasp and understanding on the differences between these two measurements. Knowing these two measurements and how they can affect your generator are crucial.

First let’s start with that all generators, rather they be portable or standby, have the amount of power that they can provide measured in watts. Watts are a unit of measurement for power and are used to quantify the rate of energy that is transferred. The higher the number the more power or energy is transferred. Appliances, computers, phone chargers, or anything else that you plug into the wall will have a wattage rating. On some of the larger appliances like refrigerators or air conditioners the watts will be right on the label. However, with smaller things it may not be as obvious. If you were to look at a toaster for example, you may only find amps and volts. Nothing to worry about though as these two numbers can easily be transferred over to a watts. All you have to do is take the amps multiplied by the volts. You then have your watts. Measuring how many watts you need is a key step when figuring out what size generator you need.

Here’s the thing though, it is not just as simple as adding up all of the watts of each appliance. No, you also need to take into consideration what’s known as staring watts. Most appliances, especially larger ones like your refrigerators and air conditioners, will have two different wattage ratings. There will be starting watts and a running watts. Running watts are what we discussed above. These are the required watts to continuously run the appliance. (These watts are also known as rated or continuous watts.) Most of the time when you are looking at a toaster or coffee maker you will only find the running watts. This is also the wattage measurement that most folks are used to.

It is when we get into the larger appliances, especially ones with a motor, that we run into what’s known as Staring Watts. These watts, also known as Surge Watts, are the amount of power required to turn or start one of these larger appliances such as refrigerators, furnaces, air conditioners, and power tools. In order for these machines to start up they need a short and brief boost of power to get the motor going. This boost requires more watts then the standard running wattage. Once the motor has turned on the amount of watts required slowly goes down until it reaches the rated running watt level. Most of the time these extra watts are needed at the start of the appliance being turned on, but there are occasional instances where a compressor or motor will need to run during regular operation of the appliance. Again, starting watts will be used these scenarios as well. Starting watts are only meant to be used for a very short period of time. (Just a few seconds at most.) If you try to run numerous applications and you exceed the running watts but are still within the starting watts you will still overload your system. For more information on exactly what sized generator you should purchase please click here to be taken to our Generator Sizing Guide.

Starting watts are what’s known as maximum watts. When purchasing a generator you should pay very close attention to what the maximum watts of the generator is and the running watts. The worst thing you can do is purchase a generator, get it setup, and then find that you don’t have enough power because you bought based off of running watts and not surge watts. When looking at generators you should be able to find the specific maximum starting watts and the running watts. If it is unclear or you cannot find it on the product either ask for help or move onto a different product. 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 tells you right in the product description. I’m a big fan of making things easy.

Lastly, if you are planning to purchase a generator check out our Best Generator Article by clicking here and also our Generator Safety Guide by clicking here. Remember folks, it is always best to be safe then sorry. Generators are not toys and they can be very dangerous if not used correctly. Please note that this article is intended to give advice and informational value only. We here at ToughAssTools are not liable for any damage when it comes to using generators rather it be personal, injury, or property.

Thanks for reading,

Alec Johnson

ToughAssTools

Question

As winter approaches many folks begin prepping their homes for the oncoming cold and snow. This could be cleaning the gutters, caulking any drafty areas, and making the home as efficient as possible. Another step in preparing for winter that a lot of folks don’t consider is having a generator on hand in the event of a power loss. Generators can be a lifesaver especially in those cold winter days when the power goes out and your furnace won’t start.

Generators can give you that much needed power, but they can also be dangerous if ran or setup incorrectly. In this article we’re going to cover what’s known as ‘Backfeeding,’ your generator.

What is BackFeeding?

Backfeeding is routing power from your running generator and plugging that power straight into an outlet of your home. This is done with a two male sided extension cord. (Why these cords exist, I do not know.) By doing this you are flowing power throughout your home in reverse. The power will move backwards from the outlet, to your electrical panel, and back throughout the rest of your home.

While this may seem like a very easy way to power your whole home I will warn you now that it is illegal and dangerous to you and others. Many people do this without realizing the risks.

The first is that by backfeeding the generator into your home you negate the circuit breaker/fuse in your power panel. For those of you that do not know, a circuit breaker is an automated electrical switch that protects a electric circuit from a short or excess current overload. When your circuit breaker trips it shuts off automatically normally to prevent damage and to prevent over heating. Without a circuit breaker, or by negating your circuit breaker by backfeeding, you risk your home and your generator catching fire.

A lot of times these fires begin when the homeowner’s normal power comes back on line. There are now two sources of power flowing back and forth between the panel and the generator. This causes the overload that we mentioned earlier and poses a large fire risk either at the panel or the generator itself. In one such incident a backfed generator caught on fire, the fuel tank exploded, and caught the user’s house on fire as well as a neighbor’s home. The story on this extreme example can be found by clicking here. The worst part about these fire accidents is that most of the time the homeowner doesn’t realize anything’s wrong until it is too late.

Along with the fire hazard you should also know that backfeeding your generator is against the law. No, that’s not the government being overreaching. There is a good reason for this. If you do backfeed your generator the electricity that you are generating through your generator can be routed back through your home and back through the electrical grid. That means if a power company employee is working on the lines he is at risk of being electrocuted. The lines they are working on are supposed to be dead/off but if a generator is backfed there is risk of electrify running through the lines during maintenance. Do you want to be responsible for that? I certainty don’t.

The Right Way

Ok, so we’ve gone through the wrong way to hook up your generator. Let’s look at the right way. Now when most people backfeed their generators they do it because they want power throughout their home. They don’t want to just power one or two things, they want the whole shebang.

This can be done, and done safely, using portable generators. The difference here is that instead of backfeeding your system you get what’s called a ‘manual transfer switch,’ installed on your power panel. A transfer switch will allow you to do just that. It allows you to transfer the power from your generator over to your home all the while blocking new power from the gird. This prevents your overload and prevents damage or overheating.

Installing a manual transfer switch can be rather tricky and complex. The best way to do this is to hire a trained electrician. This way you get the switch installed correctly and have nothing to worry about during your next power outage. Also, if you have a trained professional come to your home be sure to ask if he recommends a grounding rod for your generator. Most of the time you will need a grounding rod if you are going with a manual transfer switch.

Conclusion

Ok folks, we have now gone over the dangers of backfeeding. For more information on generator setup, install, and running safety please check out our Generator Safety Guide by clicking here.

Also, please note that this article is intended as advice and is for informational purposes only. We at ToughAssTools are not liable for any property damage or injuries that can occur when using generators.

Thanks for reading and stay safe,

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

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

Question Marks

We all know the pain of power outage, especially if it occurs in winter. The extreme weather changes and snow and ice accumulations create perfect conditions for a blackout. Luckily, you can avoid all the hassle if you have a generator on standby to warm and light your home until regular power supply resumes. 

However, your generator may have trouble revving up in the extreme weather. As such, you’ll need to make sure that your generator is winterized to ensure that it will start without issues and that it will run smoothly in the cold weather.  Here are ways you can prepare your generator for winter; 

Visual Inspection

The first measure you should perform is to undertake a complete visual check before you store your generator for winter. Inspect all components while noting parts that have experienced excessive wear and tear. Also, make a list of items that need to be replaced, such as cracked or broken hoses before the winter weather hits. 

Check the battery

Your battery may not perform as expected in cold temperatures, and it may also have a short lifespan. Check the battery to ensure that it is in perfect condition, and if it is running low, consider replacing it. A battery that is not fully charged or dead is not recommended for cold weather operation. And because batteries tend to lose a lot of power in severe conditions, it will be a good idea to get one with higher cold-cranking amps to enable you to survive through the winter months.

 Change engine oil and oil filters  

For winter and long-term storage in general, make sure to change the engine oil and filters to prevent acid accumulation that can corrode the engine. Also, it is always a good idea to use the recommended oil and manufacturer’s original parts for the filters. Generic replacements are often made from inferior materials, which could lead to expensive failures.  

You should also check the coolant level and ensure that the fuel tank is full, usually with winter-grade oil, if you are going to let it sit for more than 30 days.  A full fuel tank helps to prevent your fuel system from rusting as well as keeping moisture off the fuel lines.

Stabilize the fuel supply

When any fuel sits in a fuel tank for an extended period, it will deteriorate in one way or another. For example, if you are using gasoline, it will start to dry off, leaving a residue that may clog the carburetor, fuel pump, or even fuel filter, thus interfering with their performance.  

Diesel, on the other hand, may gel in cold conditions, and this will also affect generator performance.  This is why you should add a fuel stabilizer to help preserve the fuel as it sits in storage. You’ll need to perform the same procedure if you have a dual fuel generator.

However, the stabilizer should be added together with the fuel as once the fuel begins to deteriorate, the stabilizer will not be able to reverse the situation. Instead, you will need to disassemble your generator and clean or replace the affected parts.  

Run your generator periodically

You’ll need to run your generator regularly during extended periods of inaction during before and during winter. This will ensure that your generator will turn on automatically when needed and operate well in cold temperatures. The recommended running time is about 10 minutes once or twice per week with load on it to ensure that it is ready to go. 

Clear all around your generator 

Generators use the vents on the exterior cabinet to ventilate properly. If those vents are blocked by ice, snow, or any other debris, it will interfere with ventilation. It could also lead to overheating and a couple of other issues. As such, ensure to clear the surrounding of any snow throughout the winter. It is also recommended that you clear the path to the generator inlet plug for quick access. 

Get the cold weather kit

A cold weather kit provides one the easiest way to winterize your generator. The kit is specific to your generator and keeps the key components warm and fully operational during the extreme weather conditions. Generally, the cold weather kit includes;

Controlled battery warmers

As we mentioned, batteries do not perform efficiently in cold temperatures. The controlled battery warmer helps to keep the battery warm even in temperatures below 4 °C. The best thing about these battery warmers is that you don’t have to monitor them; once they are set, you are ready to go.

A crank case heater

The oil in your generators serves as a slippery lubricant that allows your generator to run smoothly in warm temperatures. However, in winter, the oil can coagulate, and this can prevent movement. The crank case heater helps to prevent oil from solidifying in freezing temperatures keeping your generator up and running at all times.  Also, most manufacturers recommend that you replace the standard 10W-30 oil with 5W-30 when using the heater. 

Storage considerations

It is always a good idea to store your generator in a climate-controlled space such as in a garage. However, if this is not possible, you should try to store your generator in some kind of a shelter to protect it from harsh winter elements. Check around and underneath your generator for signs of fuel or oil leaks and act accordingly. You can also take your generator for a tune-up to ensure it will be ready for use during winter or when you may need it. Also, if the generator is exposed to salt, dirt, and sand during winter months, you’ll need to clean it off before storing it.

Conclusion

Winterizing your generator is the best thing you can do to keep it running through winter months and extend the lifespan for years to come. Most of these tasks are easy and only take a few minutes and will save yourself time and give you peace of mind knowing your home will be safe during the brutal cold weather season. The best bet is always to maintain your generator in both cold and warm temperatures to avoid hitches when then goes off unexpectedly.