RUFFIN-IT: MAKING THE CASE FOR PROPANE GENERATORS
I was running up our Generac 15KW generator the other day, something I try to do every couple of months, and I got to thinking about that long stretch in the aftermath of Hurricane Ike when we kept the house alive with that big boy.
I wired the transfer switch so that we can power everything but the range and hot-water heater (high-amp consumption there), two luxuries I figure we can forego in times of peril. We have the grill and smoker to cook on, and a cold shower during hurricane season is usually not all that bad. A 15 KW unit can support everything else.
In the days after Ike roared through, we still had everything else on-line, including central cooling and the well. I had a few cans of gasoline on hand, but not enough, so I had to make one trip to Bryan to fill the empties.
The big generator went out after a couple of days, thanks to an electrical short that caused the starter to try to engage while the engine was running. You may not know a thing about such issues, but take my word that this is not good. As long as the generator runs uninterrupted, you have no problem, but if you stop it to refuel, you can’t start it up again: ground-down teeth on the ring-gear, you see. But this is entirely too technical to discuss here. Take my word for it: It ain’t pretty.
My good friends down at D&M Hardware managed to find a smaller back-up generator that took care of everything but the central system, so we got by.
I have taken a long back-road route to arrive at this point: I do not like gasoline-powered generators. They can be dangerous to refill, and stored gasoline has a short shelf life, even with an additive like Stay-Bil. Right now I have some fifty gallons of gasoline stashed to keep my generators going, but because it’s all over two years old, I’m not certain that any of it is still usable. I frankly don’t know what to do with it.
OK, I’m finally where I was going: I like propane generators. Diesel-powered units are acceptable, but even diesel will in time degrade if any water happens to get into it. I keep several cans of diesel on hand for my tractor, but never more than I can use and replenish in a year.
Why propane? Lots of reasons. A twenty-pound tank of propane, the kind you use with your grill, will run a generator as long as five gallons of gasoline will, so it’s probably a wee bit cheaper than gasoline and a hell of lot safer.
Propane is stored in a heavy-gauge sealed steel tank under pressure, and as long as the tank integrity is not compromised by rust or rough handling or whatever, that propane will be as good as the day it was put in there. You can bring in almost any size tank of propane, and you have a constant supply of stable fuel patiently waiting for use. Propane literally has an unlimited shelf life, as long as the container it is stored in is intact.
Instead of ten five-gallon containers of slowly-degrading gasoline sitting in reserve in the equipment shed well away from any other structure, I should have twenty tanks of propane, which can safely be stored almost anywhere without fear of it going bad.
In times of emergency, when people are lined up at gas pumps, you have many more places where you can buy propane, so propane is generally more readily available during power outages than gasoline. Hardware stores, farm-supply stores, supermarkets, feedstores—most of them are likely to have stocks of propane on hand.
Propane-powered engines typically last much longer than those fueled by gasoline because propane is a cleaner-burning fuel, which means, of course, that they are better for the environment, a point that some uninformed people will disagree with.
Propane generators are not generally much more expensive than those powered by gasoline, and usually they come with the capability of running on propane and gasoline or propane, natural gas, and gasoline. The triple-fuel generator is probably the best way to go, though expect a bit of a price premium for one.
Whichever kind of generator you prefer, keep in mind how invaluable they are when the grid goes down for any length of time. Whether you want central air or not, you certainly want to keep the refrigerator/freezer and fans running and the lights burning.
Next week I’ll discuss with you what to do if you have a gas-powered generator and prefer not to put the money into a propane-powered unit.