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Generator Basics

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DISCLAIMER:  The information provided by Dak Generator Services Inc. for the following questions below is based on our professional opinion. This information is general in nature and does not override the generator manufacturer's recommendations or federal and local government codes.  

Should I buy a portable generator or a standby unit?

Portable generators: Labor-intensive, but affordable
Smaller portable generators cost between $500 and $1,500 and are capable of powering your home’s essential appliances. These are considerably less expensive than standby generators—and all in all, they are fairly user-friendly—but a portable generator does require manual operation and close monitoring. What does that mean? For one thing, you must be at home to start the generator. So if you are gone on a vacation the day before a power outage, you’re likely to return home to an array of hazards and headaches ranging from a flooded basement (due to a failed sump pump) to a refrigerator full of spoiled perishables. By contrast, a standby generator—as you’ll read in the section below—offers the peace of mind of knowing that no matter where you are when the power goes out, the generator will come on automatically.

Further inconveniences of operating a portable generator stem from the fact that most such machines are powered by gasoline. Because a typical tank holds a finite quantity of gas—say, three or six gallons—you must periodically fill it, even during the worst winter weather. More seriously, due to the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning from engine exhaust, a portable must be placed at least ten feet away from the house in an enclosure that protects the generator from the elements, but also encourages the free movement of air. As tempting as it may be to run the generator in the garage with the garage door open, this is strongly discouraged. An open garage door does not provide adequate ventilation and does not meet NFPA codes. 

 Standby generators are quieter and safer than portables, and they operate automatically—you don’t have to lift a finger. Of course, that convenience doesn’t come cheap. Including professional consultation—which can be crucial in determining the appropriate-size generator—and installation, an average system ranges in costs from $4800.00 to $10,000.00. 

Making the price tag more palatable is the fact that standby generators tend to last a long time, about an average of 20 years. Upon home resale, these machines recoup about 50 percent of their cost. Although maintenance is necessary every two years, licensed professionals can help ensure a unit’s reliability. For some families, especially those who have vital medical equipment running in the house, the reliability afforded by a standby generator is virtually priceless. 

If I buy a portable generator, how do I plug it in to supply power to my home or office?

The safest way to run a generator is to plug it into a piece of electrical equipment called a transfer switch, which is required to meet national electrical codes. This is a combination switch and electrical subpanel. It's wired directly into the house's service panel and the generator is plugged into it. When you throw its switch, it does two things. First, it disconnects the house from the grid outside. This prevents power from the generator from flowing outside the house, where it can injure or kill a utility worker. Second, it sends power only to house circuits that you've designated. That way, the generator won't be overloaded.

Can I safely power a laptop or other electronic equipment with my generator?

If you think that a portable generator will provide clean and consistent power, think again. Although portable generators have become more reliable and very affordable, most don't provide clean power. The frequency and voltage may vary so much that certain electronic equipment may not function properly, if at all. Then there's the problem of shutting down unexpectedly or when the generator needs to be refueled. You may think the solution is to simply plug all your computers and electronics into a UPS, then plug the UPS into the generator. When the generator shuts down, the UPS takes over until the generator is started again. Again, this sounds great in theory.

If you connect your UPS directly to a generator you may be surprised to find that your UPS may not accept the power from the generator at all. Remember, a UPS monitors the input power's quality and if it's not within acceptable ranges, it switches to the UPS's batteries. You could find yourself checking cables and circuit breakers wondering why the UPS is not getting power from the generator. The reality is that the UPS is getting power from the generator, but the UPS does not consider the power quality to be sufficient. So what do you do now? There is no single solution. Start by examining your entire configuration. First, the generator must be powerful enough to supply consistent power quality. This means that the generator should be able to provide the same quality of power as the the power demands change. You may find that the generator may need to be much larger than your actual power needs. One of the most common problems with generator output is the line frequency. Generator output frequency should be 60Hz. My experience has shown that many generators are off by a bit. Purchasing a line frequency meter is a good investment. They cost little and are well worth the money. Adjusting the governor on the generator is a simple matter. The frequency should be set to 60Hz. If the frequency varies significantly as the load on the generator changes, consider a larger generator.

Make sure that your UPS is generator compatible. You may check with the manufacturer or visit their web site for information on compatibility. If your UPS has a sensitivity setting, reduce the UPS sensitivity to power fluctuations. If your UPS switches between battery and line power constantly or remains on battery power, the power quality may be inadequate. Reducing the UPS sensitivity may resolve the issue.

It is worth noting that appliances, lighting, etc. are not as sensitive to power quality issues. 

How do I determine the size of generator I need?

How to Determine the Right Size Engine or Generator:  While there is no substitute for having a certified electrician perform an inspection and calculate everything for you, the guidelines below do offer some great starting points and should at least get you started in the right direction:

Know Your Requirements:  Going to a dealer and buying the best or cheapest generator available without any other consideration is clearly not the best approach. It is always better to delve deep into your power generation requirements before making a choice. You can do this in the following ways:

  • Make a list of the items that need to be powered by the generator
  • Make a note of the starting and running wattage of the respective items
  • Calculate the total power requirements in KVA or KW

How to Find the Starting and Running Wattage:  Getting the right starting and running wattage of the devices you intend to power is crucial for calculating the accurate power requirements. Normally, you will find these in the identification plate or the owner's manual in the buyer's kit of each respective device, tool, appliance, or other electrical equipment.

Ampere - Watt Conversion You may often find power requirements of tools stated in amperes. In order to convert the power requirement of a tool from ampere to watts, follow these calculations.

  • For resistive load: Wattage = amperes x volts
  • For reactive load: Wattage = (amperes x volts) x load factor

Power Requirement Charting It often happens that you lose the owner's manual or for some reason can't find the power requirement specification of the tools and/or other electrical devices you're running. If you have questions over any particular items, you can contact the Generator Service Company for a free consultation.

Different ways of Calculating:  Depending upon the type and number of devices and the way the generator is scheduled to be used, there are a few different ways of calculating power requirements:

  • Single motor running 
  • Multiple motors running simultaneously
  • No electric motors

Advantages of choosing the right size generator:  Now that you have an idea on how to choose the appropriate size of generator to suit your needs, here's just a few of the benefits obtained by going through that process:

  • No unexpected system failures
  • No shutdowns due to capacity overload
  • Increased longevity of the generator
  • Guaranteed performance
  • Smoother hassle-free maintenance
  • Increased system life span
  • Assured personal safety
  • Much smaller chance of asset damage

Where to Buy & Role of Dealers and/or Service Providers:  Since you are not only purchasing a substantial company asset, but most likely an item you will need to rely on for prime or emergency electrical power at some point, probably in a crisis, deciding where to buy is also a key consideration not to be overlooked.  The seller's years of experience, whether they are a full service dealer or small commissioned broker, and so forth, all play a role. 

What kind of maintenance does a generator require?

Generators are a great way to provide an alternative power source when needed, whether it’s for powering the RV each weekend or simply for the rare power outage. These beneficial machines can be a fairly large investment, so you want to make sure you do what you can to extend the life of your generator.

Depending on how often you use your generator can determine how often you need to have preventative and routine maintenance performed. Of course, if you use your generator regularly, you will need to service your generator more often. Always follow the generator manufactures recommendation found in your owners manual. If not available, you can use the following general maintenance recommendations.  

It is always important to remember that regardless of use, your generator will need regular oil changes. This is because the additives in the oil can break down over time. With new generators, the oil should be changed after the first 24 hours of use. Your generator’s oil should be changed on air-cooled gasoline portables every 40-50 hours or minimum of once per year; Home Standby air-cooled natural gas or propane generators 100 hours of use or minimum of once per year. 

In general, with routine maintenance and oil and filter changes, combined with the exclusive use of clean gasoline, your generator will provide you and your family with years of reliable and trustworthy performance.

It is always a good idea to have a professional servicing performed on your generator for a more in-depth inspection and diagnostic testing.  Depending on your specific usage, you may consider having this professional service performed once every year or two. This added initial maintenance cost may prevent the occurrence of major problems and generator failure in the future that will inevitably have a higher cost to repair.

Here at Dak Generator Services Inc., we are committed to providing the highest level of customer service. We take great pride in providing our clients with 24-hour emergency service with fast response by licensed and insured professionals who are experienced and factory trained. Visit our website or contact us at 605.341.6160 for more information or to schedule your free consultation or custom quote today.

How do I determine the fuel type for my generator: Gas, L/P, diesel, propane, duel-fuel, or tri-fuel?

Portable Generator Use

Initial use is concerned with primary purpose. Will your portable generator be used as a tool for handyman/construction work, or would it be used as a backup generator for when your house loses utility power Will it be used for your main source of power or for your remote camping site or cabin in the woods?

The needed size of the generator also will determine the economics of fuel use. Will a couple of gallons work or will you need to be hauling 10's of gallons to meet your needs?

For commercial/construction work, you will likely have any fuel available you need and given that gasoline is a primary fuel readily available, a size-appropriate generator can be chosen easily. Any of the fuels of gasoline, propane, or diesel is really an easy choice.

This may be true also for your cabin or hunting and camping trips. Picking up a few gallons of gasoline for use as needed makes perfect sense and probably the most likely to be used.

However, if your generator is used for backup only, then you may need to be considering how much storage and how long that gasoline may remain stable. You would need to be considering if adding fuel stabilizer is a necessity to prolong life before needing to recycle your inventory.

Propane generators are mobile, but do take a little extra effort as you have to bring extra filled tanks or have access to a larger tank. Usage depends on how you expect to be able to quickly and easily obtain propane fuel or exchange tanks.

Diesel is another good fuel option as availability is excellent and it is more stable than gasoline for storage. However, most generators are noisier and may cause more of an environmental consideration depending on where it will be used. Worksites are probably not a problem, but the backyard and keeping the neighbors happy may be another consideration.

Tri-Fuel

There are a few available which will burn gasoline, natural gas, or liquid propane such as the Winco HPS12000HE Tri-Fuel Generator.

There are also a number of Impco Tri-fuel conversion kits that you can get to convert an existing gas powered generator to burn the 3 fuels.

What you need to be aware of is that the fuel BTU or energy at burn will be different for each fuel and the power generation or HP of the engine will diminish, giving you less power with propane or natural gas.

The tri-fuel option, however, gives you an advantage in long term needs of using your generator when supplies of fuel start to become scarce.  

Standby Generators

In the whole house market, the non-portable standby generators are more likely going to be tied to your natural gas supply or liquid propane sources like 300 or 1000 gallon LP tanks. These are common sources of fuel in residential and commercial building. The NG/LP fuel available is likely to provide continuous, if not many days of service.

These sources provide less BTU’s and power output can be diminished compared to gas and diesel engines. Thus engine sizes get bigger than gasoline ones to put out the same amount of power.

Sure, you can get large gasoline and diesel tanks to supply this effort as well, but long term fuel stability is still a concern, and in larger applications, the diesel engines are often used because of the more stable fuel properties and the power output. Again noise levels can become a concern if the unit isn’t well isolated.

Fuel Types Pros and Cons

Gasoline is readily available, making it easy to use for day in and day out portable generator service.

Gasoline generators in the portable generator market are prolific and dominate the choices available. This is probably attributed to the abundant small engine designs that have been developed over the years as well as the vast availability of the fuel.

At 6 lbs./gallon, 2 to 5 gallons in portable cans make it easy to use and service your generator. It’s not uncommon in work environments for a service truck to have a large tank for servicing many pieces of equipment making fuel generously available.

It can be stored for a few months rather easily and prices can fluctuate significantly with demand by season based on usage levels. Long term storage requires adding fuel stabilizer as an extra cost or maintaining an inventory turnover schedule to keep it fresh.

Gas isn’t as safe as other fuels as it’s more volatile. Leaks from your containers can cause hazards as well as staining of whatever it comes in contact with. It is not the best environmental fuel with higher emissions than other fuels. 

In situations such as hurricanes or other weather disasters, gasoline can become a scare commodity. If power is out, service stations may not be able to pump fuel unless they are equipped with backup generation.

You may be able to store a number of gallons for use, but if you needed a week or two of fuel, the stored fuel can become extensive. A simple example would be if you were using 5 gallons a day, you’d need to store 35 to 70 gallons to get by for one to two weeks. If you keep your car or truck full, you could use their tanks and get a few extra days if you do not need it for travel.

When considering gasoline, it’s about the expected length of time you will believe you’ll need this fuel and what impacts the fuel availability will be over the duration. In a vast majority of cases, power outages don’t last more than a few hours to a couple of days.

There are those cases where it can last many days or a couple of weeks. Take time to think about how you would manage gasoline for this service.

Liquid Propane is a common fuel. It weighs 4.2 lbs./gallon. Tanks come in the smaller 20lb (4.75 gal.) size used for gas grills, outdoor cooking stoves, with sizes from 150 gallon to above 1000 gallons for homes, cabins, and businesses. LP is stable and does not deteriorate, making it ideal for long term storage.

It becomes advantageous in standby and backup generator applications where the larger tanks are available and you can count on having long term power.

Storage of a few extra 20-pound gas grill size is good, not only for the cooking ability, but also the portable generator. It’s likely that as gasoline becomes scarce that propane may still be available and not as much in demand until more people start using up their stores for cooking.

Smaller tanks are fairly portable and using a propane portable generator is similar to a gas-powered one except connecting the fuel source takes a little more care.

LP is also the cleanest burning fuel with 30% plus or minus 10% emissions than natural gas. It does, however, produce more methane. The other downside of using LP is that it does not produce as much power per volume of use as gasoline. The offset may be in the cost, which is more stable than gasoline, but can still fluctuate with season and demand.

To consider your economics, you will need to compare typical output and use between machines:

fuel used * cost of fuel / # of hours run time at 50% load = cost / hour to run

If you take this and multiply by the number of hours expected to run per year, you’ll get a yearly cost comparison of savings or expense.

Compare both as with changing prices, this could go to benefit one or the other on economics. However, I would not make this my main consideration unless you are in a heavy use situation. Note that you may have more capital investment with propane because of the pressurized tanks.

LP will dissipate in open areas quickly making it safer than a gasoline spill; however, if it’s released in a confined space, it can be more explosive if ignited.

Natural Gas or Liquid Natural Gas (LNG) is an alternate fuel and availability is becoming more common in larger population centers for portability in tanks. It is widely available in many locations via household supply for direct connection.

Natural Gas has even a lower BTU base than propane and provides about 10% less energy production. On dual fuel LP/NG engines, you’ll get 10% less output with this fuel.

It can be easily stored for long periods in tanks similar to those used by propane.  The primary advantage of natural gas is the ability to hook up directly at your home as supply will not likely be tied to power outages. This only requires a supply plumbed to your outside wall and having a connection hose to the properly equipped generator.

Again you’ll have investment in the more expense tanks for using NG unless you make the direct connection. For the direct connection, there will be some extra expense associated with the plumbing and hose connections.

Many standby generators are design to work with a direct connection to NG or LP supplies.

Diesel is also readily available, but tends to stain and attracts dirt as a heavier fuel. Since diesel is far more stable and less volatile, it can be stored longer than 10 years. There are claims of multiple decades where the fuel has been used because it was properly stored. Contamination with water is a worry, but can be addressed with Micron Filters at the tank outlet and with fuel line filtering.

Environmentally, diesel fuel is one of the cleanest burning fuels if engine setup is correct.  If not, it can get heavy smoke and particulate exhaust. Diesel is also much safer than gasoline as its vapors don’t ignite as easily as gas.

Diesel is as portable as other fuels. Direct costs of the fuel have been higher recently with the new low sulfur requirements, but economics of use are better in the hours per gallon category. You can use the similar formula above as noted for LP comparison.

Summary

Essentially you need to decide on your anticipated use.

Day in and day out, a gasoline- or diesel-fueled portable generator is easily a good choice as fuel supplies are not limited and can readily be acquired.

When it comes to backup power for short durations, any of the fuels should be available in the short run. Storage of fuel long term becomes a consideration as you may need to rotate inventory for gasoline, but diesel and propane have long shelf lives and are very suited for emergency backup situation.

For propane, you can get extra tanks to run your grill and outdoor gas stoves. With diesel, you may have extra for your cars and autos if you move to a complete diesel transport model.

With both LP and natural gas systems used in houses/cabins, you can plumb your systems to be able to hook the portable or standby generators directly into a larger supply source eliminating the need for trips to the fuel depot.

You should take stock in operating conditions as well. Most quiet (smaller and inverter) generators use gasoline as the fuel source. They are economically viable and can provide basic needs for a long time on a minimum amount of fuel. These are great generators for tailgating and using in residential neighborhoods.

Of course if you want more flexibility in generation with some offset in total production, a tri-fuel generator may worth your effort, but it does require more knowledge and understanding of how to operate your generator.

Fuel is only one component of the decisions you will want to make when deciding on your portable or standby generation. It’s best that you have a broad picture of the choices, and we hope we have given you some perspective on making those choices.

Can I install my own generator?

Yes, no, and maybe --- how's that for a clear-as-mud answer?

There are several things to consider when deciding if installing a home generator is project you can undertake yourself. These include:

    • Do you consider yourself to be "handy"? In answering this, think about the following:
      • Am I comfortable working with basic hand tools such as shovels, saws, hammers, and screwdrivers? These are basic skills you will need to create a suitable base onto which you will install your generator.
      • In some localities, you are required to install your generator on a concrete slab. If that applies to you, ask yourself: Am I comfortable mixing and working with concrete? None of this is especially difficult, but you need to be honest with yourself. Let's face it:  Sometimes, it is just easier to write a check and have "things" done for you!
  • Do you have basic understanding of electrical wiring? In many areas, you can apply for electrical permits and do the work yourself. You are still required to have your work inspected and approved, and you should definitely not view the inspector as "the enemy." To the contrary, the vast majority of inspectors are knowledgeable, helpful people who want nothing more than to make sure your home is safe. We'll post more about inspectors elsewhere on this site.
  • What about gas work? Your generator will be powered by either natural gas or LP vapor (Propane). You need to understand how to do that work, too. Remember, a "mechanical" permit will almost certainly be required, along with the usual inspections.
Many localities won't let you get anywhere near electrical and gas work. If that is the case where you live, you can still handle much of the time consuming and labor intensive work, such as preparing the installation area (e.g., concrete slab or gravel-filled wooden frame), and setting the generator in place. 

Who warranties and/or services generators?

For the warranty period from the date of sale, the generator manufacturer will, at its option, repair or replace any part(s) which, upon examination, inspection, and testing by an Authorized/Certified Warranty Dealer of the product, or branch thereof, is found to be defective under normal use and service, in accordance with the warranty schedule set forth in the manufacturer's warranty statement.  Any equipment that the purchaser/owner claims to be defective must be examined by the nearest Authorized/ Certified Warranty Dealer, or branch thereof. 

What are the risks associated with using a generator?

Dak Generator Services Inc. wants to make sure that local home and business owners use these generators safely. “The hazards associated with portable generators include electric shock, carbon monoxide gas, and fire. “Most of those problems can be avoided with proper use and maintenance.”

Dak Generator Services Inc. offers these tips for safe generator use:

  • Be sure that your generator is properly grounded. It’s a good idea to attach it to a portable ground fault circuit interrupter (GFCI) that will stop the flow of electricity if someone is being shocked.
  • Do not exceed the generator’s power rating or you may damage the generator and any equipment that’s hooked up to it. Overloading a generator can also cause fires.
  • If you have to use an extension cord, choose an outdoor cord that has a power rating that can accommodate the total load from the appliances and devices you’ll power.
  • Never try to use the generator to power the wiring in your house by plugging it into a wall outlet. This approach, called “backfeeding,” can endanger the lives of power company workers and your neighbors by sending unexpected, uncontrolled current through the lines.
  • Don’t use your generator in wet conditions. If it’s raining or snowing, place some sort of canopy above the generator to protect it from moisture.
  • Disconnect and shut down all equipment that’s hooked up to the generator before you shut it down.
  • Don’t refuel your generator when it’s running because its parts will be hot. Shut the generator down and let it cool.
  • Store fuel for your generator in properly sealed containers outside your home and far away from heat sources such as the generator, a furnace, or a water heater.
  • Generators tend to become hot when operating, so avoid touching them, and keep children and pets away from them.

In addition to the electrical risks associated with portable generators, owners should also be aware of other dangers. Portable generators burn gasoline, propane, or another fuel to generate electricity, and that combustion creates exhaust that contains carbon monoxide. "Carbon monoxide is deadly, but it is completely colorless and odorless, so you won’t know if it’s there. In most deaths and poisonings, someone was overcome after placing a generator indoors or in a partially enclosed area. Opening a window or a door doesn’t provide sufficient ventilation. If you’re going to use a generator, it must be located outside away from windows or vents that could draw the exhaust indoors. As an added precaution, install a battery-powered carbon monoxide detector in your home and test it regularly.”

According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, four in five carbon monoxide deaths caused by portable generators occur in the home, and a third of those deaths happen when generators are being used after weather knocks out the lights. In fact, in the days after Hurricane Katrina struck the Gulf Coast in 2005, 50 cases of carbon monoxide relating to temporary generators were reported, including five deaths.

“Most of all, be sure you read the generator’s operating manual. It will tell you how to operate the generator safely and correctly, so you’ll get the results you want without creating any dangerous hazards.”

Freight And Shipping Questions

How do your generators ship?

On small units, DAK Generator utilizes trucking companies like Yellow-Freight for direct deliveries to your door!  When available, lift-gate delivery is offered.  All other large generator sets will ship at the most economical solution available.

What is the average shipping time from date of order?

Most portable and home standby generators ship the next day if ordered before 5:00PM MST.  Custom or special build request generator systems may take 4-8 weeks ARO.

Sales Questions

What types of payment do you accept?

DAK Generator accepts Visa, Master Card, American Express, and Discover Credit cards Nationwide.  We also accept Money Order, Cashier's Check, Money Transfer, or Personal Check (ten-day (10-day) hold on personal checks).  International orders require direct Money Transfer.

Do you provide after service sales support?

This is where DAK Generator shines!  We maintain 100% 24/7 Technical support for all our customers.

Are your On-Line Shopping Carts Secure?

DAK Generator utilizes the latest in SSL Encrypted Technologies to ensure our customer's privacy.  You can shop with confidence on-line when purchasing from DAK Generator Services.

Will you share any of my submitted personal information?

Absolutely not!  We only use your personal information to verify authenticity and accuracy when ordering.

Will you match prices with competitors?

DAK Generator is constantly comparing our pricing to ensure you save $$$ when ordering from us.

Service Questions

Where do we find service for generators bought through your company?

DAK Generator will put you in contact with the nearest Authorized Service Facility in your area if you should need any service or warranty assistance.

General Questions

Do you offer products other than what is shown here?

DAK Generator offers custom power solutions including Solar, Wind, Inverter, UPS, and many more based on your assessed needs.

If you have additional questions, a customer service representative is happy to visit with you by email, phone or fax.


For information and pricing call:

Phone: 605.341.6160 | Fax: 605.718.9998









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