The memory is still sharp in my mind of the Great Salem Ice Storm of 2021.
Twelve days without electricity. Lots of tree damage. Many trips into town to get more gasoline to keep our Honda generator functioning. Having to keep our wood stove going to keep the house warm.
In short, not fun. So when some friends in our rural south Salem neighborhood told my wife and I that they were getting a Generac whole house generator, our ears perked up.
Turns on automatically when the power goes out. Capable of running a heat pump, hot water heater, well pump, and everything else in a house. Or at least, almost everything.
Sure sounded good to us.
During the ice storm we had to take showers at our athletic club, since we didn't have a way to hook our hot water heater to the Honda generator. And while our wood stove worked fine, it kept the upper part of our house too warm, and left the lower part too cold. So being able to operate our heat pump was really appealing.
It took quite a while to arrange all the details of getting a Generac whole house generator through Northside Electric here in Salem, but yesterday the final work was completed. It wasn't cheap: $13,250, not including the cost of propane tanks.
However, I told Jeff Buyserie, the Northside Electric guy who handled some tricky final electrical panel work and educated us about the Generac yesterday afternoon, that my magical thinking leads me to believe that now that we've gotten the whole house generator, our electricity will never go off again.
Jeff's apt response: "So get some life insurance and you'll never die."
Here's the 24kW generator. We located it near our firewood stacks. The Generac has to be on almost level ground. Northside supplied the concrete pad the generator sits on.
The Generac can't be right next to a structure. We have it close to where the PGE power enters our house, and the circuit breaker boxes in our utility room.
Eighteen inch deep trenches had to be dug for the propane and electrical lines feeding the Generac. We haven't had the trenches filled yet. The county inspection has been completed, so the trenches will be filled soon.
The Generac can be fueled by either natural gas or propane. Since our neighborhood doesn't have natural gas, propane was our only option. Given our hilly property, and where we wanted to locate the Generac, a 500 gallon propane tank was too large to be moved close to the generator. So Pratum Co-op installed four 120 gallon tanks, which together equal 480 gallons.
They're hooked together, so function as a single tank. Propane tanks can only be filled 80% full, so that gives us a maximum of about 384 gallons. Jeff from Northside Electric told us that likely the Generac would use around 2 gallons an hour on average. So that would equal 192 hours of run time if the propane tanks were full.
Which is eight days of constant generator operation. Four days if the propane tanks were half full. That's longer than most electrical outages last. And naturally the tanks can be refilled, so long as the roads are passable for a Pratum Co-op truck.
A lot of electrical panel work had to be done by Northside. We now have a Generac circuit breaker box that sits to the left of our old transfer box for our 7,000 watt Honda generator. So we could still use the Honda generator, though I hope we'll never have to.
The main complication we encountered was getting the 3.5 ton heat pump for the 2,000 square foot main part of our house to work with the Generac. (We also have a smaller 2 ton heat pump for a 1,200 square foot "apartment" area; that part of the house isn't hooked up to the Generac.)
It turned out that the thermostat for the 3.5 ton heat pump was on a circuit that ran the furnace: air handler and heat strips for emergency heat, or when it is too cold for the heat pump to run efficiently. Jeff had to do some rewiring so the thermostat was on the Generac panel, but the heat strips weren't.
He said that the 3.5 ton heat pump heat strips probably took around 15,000 watts. So since we have a 24,000 watt generator, the heat strips plus the heat pump plus the extra wattage needed when the heat pump starts up likely would have sucked up the entire output of the Generac.
So while we still have the heat strips available when PGE power is available, we'll have to make do with just the heat pump when the Generac is operating. If it's too cold for the heat pump to work without the heat strips (below freezing, basically), we'll have to use our wood stove.
I was grocery shopping when Jeff did the testing of how the Generac handled our house's electrical needs. When I got home, he and my wife told me that the Generac did fine with everything on: well pump, heat pump, hot water heater, lights, cooktop, etc., even the oven. It did strain the generator when the heat pump kicked on. Hopefully that won't be the case when we have a lesser load on the Generac.
I feel good about our Generac purchase.
The generator is set up to turn itself on every two weeks at noon for five minutes to keep the Generac "exercised." Northside Electric will do doing the maintenance on the generator, since I have no interest in doing this, in part because the Generac is much larger and more complicated than our Honda generator.
But we'll have to wait and see how the Generac does in a power outage. Well, unless my magical thinking is correct and we'll never have an outage now that we've spent so much money preparing for one.