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Recommendations for generator to support heating system?

rickgerv
rickgerv Member Posts: 22
I would like to get a generator to support my hot water heating system in case of emergencies to prevent any issues with power outages and frozen pipes. My electrician is quoting me a 10 circuit automatic generator which is very pricey. Consumer Reports indicates that a portable generators which is a fraction of the cost would be fine. I am not looking to back up my whole house just the heating system and sump pump. Would portable generator be OK? I'm curious what other are running.
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Comments

  • Paul48
    Paul48 Member Posts: 4,470
    What type of boiler? A simple cast-iron boiler, with simple controls can run off any portable generator. You have to be careful with mod/cons with elaborate electronic controls, as many will not run off the electricity produced by some portable generators.
  • hot_rod
    hot_rod Member Posts: 15,023
    The Honda 2000W are popular with the wood heat guys. Most add a UPS to clean up the power for microprocessor controlled equipment. I bought a small inverter from the invertorstore.com, lots of good info on what to use.
    Bob "hot rod" Rohr
    trainer for Caleffi NA
    Living the hydronic dream
  • ratio
    ratio Member Posts: 2,923
    I too have run on a portable Honda generator, in fact two houses simultaneously. It would start the AC if the fridges were unplugged. Very quiet (comparatively) too. Mine's rated for IIRC 3kW running, 5k5W starting. Didn't give my 90% or my brother's 80% furnace any troubles either in the winter. Eventually I plan on adding a power inlet for it, interlocked with the main breaker, as a whole house generator in the size I want is a little pricey.
  • Paul48
    Paul48 Member Posts: 4,470
    I also have a small portable generator. My reasoning, is, that sooner or later we'll get an ice storm, and the 90+ year old house would freeze solid in a hurry. I don't need to run the whole house, at once, and can selectively switch between the boiler, fridge and necessary items as desired. I haven't had to use it for a storm, but it saved a neighbors bacon, when a storm took out her electrical service, early one evening.
  • Jamie Hall
    Jamie Hall Member Posts: 17,059
    I don't have a Honda, but I've seen them and liked them. Anything 2KW and up should run the boiler OK, although as was mentioned some of the newer boilers with fancy electronic controls need very clean power -- which some of the newer inverter type generators (like the Hondas) seem to provide.

    The guys are tired of me writing this, but whatever you get and however you hook it up, do it correctly and safely. There are many many ways to hook up a portable generator which range from simply unsafe to very hazardous to flat out lethal. There aren't that many ways to do it right. Be sure you know what those ways are, and do it that way.
    Br. Jamie, osb
    Building superintendent/caretaker, 7200 sq. ft. historic house museum with dependencies in New England
    Tim Potter
  • Gordy
    Gordy Member Posts: 9,514
    Key word is back feed for what Jamie is referring to.

    When the power is out, and the utility comes to work on the lines. If your generator is running with out being isolated from the main utility. You put the workers in harms way.
  • hot_rod
    hot_rod Member Posts: 15,023
    One way to do a boiler is put the entire system on a cord and into a receptacle. If you need to power it up via generator, just plug it in.

    I have my well pump, refrigerator, a cord for a few lights, and boiler ready to plug into my 9KW welder/ generator.
    Bob "hot rod" Rohr
    trainer for Caleffi NA
    Living the hydronic dream
    Tim Potter
  • Gordy
    Gordy Member Posts: 9,514
    That's fine as long as it's wired so when the power goes out you can throw the disconnect to the boiler circuit open so no back feed. Or remember to turn off the main breaker at the service panel. Again so no back feed occurs to the main power lines.
  • ratio
    ratio Member Posts: 2,923
    Square D has a generator interlock for both the QO & Homeline panels, keeps the main & dedicated generator breaker from both being in the on position at the same time. I assume that most/all modern panels have such an accessory. Dunno about older panels like Pushmatic. Much safer than a suicide cord. That & a power inlet will keep you safe & legal. Er, the interlock I mean, not the suicide cord.
    Gordy
  • njtommy
    njtommy Member Posts: 1,105
    edited January 2016
    I think this is what your after?

    I've been looking to do this as well with an inline ups.

    http://m.homedepot.com/p/Reliance-Controls-30-Amp-250-Volt-7500-Watt-Non-Fuse-6-Circuit-Transfer-Switch-Kit-3006HDK/202213700
  • Fred
    Fred Member Posts: 8,518
    edited January 2016
    I have a Pushmatic Breaker box. No such safety feature on it. I would just shut the main breaker down if I need to use the generator. For heat, (Steam 24 volt system) I assumed I could take the 110 line off of the transformer (mounted on a joist next to the boiler) and connect a power cord to the transformer and plug it into the generator. I assume that is safe? Generator outside, of course.
  • Gordy
    Gordy Member Posts: 9,514
    edited January 2016
    A male pig tail at the equipment disconnect like HR said. It would need a female protector plug while not in use for safety. Having a male end exposed not a good idea.
  • Jamie Hall
    Jamie Hall Member Posts: 17,059
    @Fred , the problem with "just shut the main breaker down" is that you have to remember to do it. You probably would -- you seem to be a conscientious fellow -- but the average homeowner? Perhaps not so much.

    It's a lineman's nightmare.

    Your idea of disconnecting the 110 from the system transformer and connecting a new cord with a plug on the end and plugging into the generator will work, and it's safe enough. Don't forget the ground, and make sure the hot and neutral are right 'way round. Just remember to disconnect that cord when you reconnect the transformer to the mains. I'm not keen about it, and I can't recommend it -- but it is cheaper than a transfer switch.

    If you don't disconnect the cord, you have what @Gordy referred to as a suicide cord -- basically an extension cord where the prongs of the plug are energized.
    Br. Jamie, osb
    Building superintendent/caretaker, 7200 sq. ft. historic house museum with dependencies in New England
  • Fred
    Fred Member Posts: 8,518
    Thanks @Jamie Hall . It would not be a permanent set up and I tend to shut the main breaker down when there is any power outage (even though they only last about 10 minutes to an hour)to prevent any damage to equipment/appliances due to a power surge or extended brown out when it comes back on.
  • rickgerv
    rickgerv Member Posts: 22
    Unfortunately, this average homeowner is not able to decipher the responses. This sounds bloody complicated. I do have a mod/con. Is there an option for that?
  • hot_rod
    hot_rod Member Posts: 15,023
    Gordy said:

    A male pig tail at the equipment disconnect like HR said. It would need a female protector plug while not in use for safety. Having a male end exposed not a good idea.

    I just unplug the boiler from the wall and plug it into the power cord from the generator. There is no extra pigtail with exposed end? It either plugs into the generator, or the wall receptacle.

    Not quite as convenient as a pre-wire, or a load disconnect, but I have only had to use the generator twice in 22 years.
    Bob "hot rod" Rohr
    trainer for Caleffi NA
    Living the hydronic dream
    Tim Potter
  • Abracadabra
    Abracadabra Member Posts: 1,948
    rickgerv said:

    Unfortunately, this average homeowner is not able to decipher the responses. This sounds bloody complicated. I do have a mod/con. Is there an option for that?

    It may be worth your while to call in an electrician. Safer too.
    rickgervHarvey Ramer
  • SWEI
    SWEI Member Posts: 7,356
    hot rod said:

    One way to do a boiler is put the entire system on a cord and into a receptacle.

    Adding a cord and plug to an appliance which does not have a "cord and plug connected" listing from an NRTL lies in a bit of a grey area code-wise. Check with your local AHJ before you start.
    Gordy
  • bmwpowere36m3
    bmwpowere36m3 Member Posts: 512
    We use an old Coleman portable generator (maybe 3kV) and 20+ yrs old.

    It back feeds a 30A recepticle near the main panel. So we shut off the main breaker, switch the 30A breaker on and back feed the panel.

    Works fine, obviously can't run everything, but we've never had to switch other breakers off. Just be smart with what your turning on inside the house. It's handled two well pumps, microwave, electric cooktop, TVs, computers, etc...

    Sensitive electronics are not a concern, since they typically run on DC (built-in AC-DC convertors)... so that filters any subpar line-voltage.
    ChrisJ
  • Jamie Hall
    Jamie Hall Member Posts: 17,059

    We use an old Coleman portable generator (maybe 3kV) and 20+ yrs old.



    It back feeds a 30A recepticle near the main panel. So we shut off the main breaker, switch the 30A breaker on and back feed the panel.



    Works fine, obviously can't run everything, but we've never had to switch other breakers off. Just be smart with what your turning on inside the house. It's handled two well pumps, microwave, electric cooktop, TVs, computers, etc...



    Sensitive electronics are not a concern, since they typically run on DC (built-in AC-DC convertors)... so that filters any subpar line-voltage.

    I see the words "back feeds" and I have nightmares. If everything is wired correctly -- all grounds connected, all neutrals and hots the right way round, all phase relationships correct if 240 volt three wire -- and if the main panel is correct, and the main breaker breaks the hots, you can probably get away with it without killing someone. Or burning the place down.

    It's illegal. It's dangerous. If the lineman trying to fix the line senses voltage on the line before he gets fried, he will come and find the problem, and the electrical company is entitled to -- and will -- disconnect your service.

    Just do it at least semi right -- the idea of putting a power cord and plug disconnect on the appliance(s) you want to power and plugging them into the generator (although, as @Gordy noted, that's a bit of a grey area -- if the appliance is a fixed appliance (e.g. a boiler) it's pretty dubious). Or do it really right, with a transfer switch.

    It's not hard to do it right. It's not even that expensive, even if you have to hire an electrician to do it. It won't invalidate your homeowner's insurance. It won't get your electrical service disconnected. It won't kill a lineman.

    Please.
    Br. Jamie, osb
    Building superintendent/caretaker, 7200 sq. ft. historic house museum with dependencies in New England
  • hot_rod
    hot_rod Member Posts: 15,023
    SWEI said:

    hot rod said:

    One way to do a boiler is put the entire system on a cord and into a receptacle.

    Adding a cord and plug to an appliance which does not have a "cord and plug connected" listing from an NRTL lies in a bit of a grey area code-wise. Check with your local AHJ before you start.

    Interesting. I have put cords on garbage disposals, dishwashers, dryers, solar controls and other appliances without any issues from inspectors.

    For boilers I put a cord to the relay box and everything wires from that. That way the entire system powers from one source.
    Bob "hot rod" Rohr
    trainer for Caleffi NA
    Living the hydronic dream
  • ChrisJ
    ChrisJ Member Posts: 11,973
    edited January 2016
    I have to admit, if something with a microprocessor can't run on literally any generator producing 105-130V AC over a fairly wide range of frequencies, noise and all, I have very little respect for the product. All of them run on DC and I would expect most fairly recent products (past 10 years?) to have switchers in them with decent filtering.

    Anything I've built doesn't care what noise is on the AC line.

    That said, I really have no idea what kind of garbage is being sold these days.


    I've heard Honda generators mentioned again and again for many years and have yet to hear a bad thing about them. I too would recommend one. I'm still using a 1992 Coleman 4KW generator that sounds like a dump truck going through a nitroglycerin plant. It gets the job done and hasn't let me down so it stays. it's output is ugly, and it's voltage is on the highside but nothing I own cares.
    Single pipe quasi-vapor system. Typical operating pressure 0.14 - 0.43 oz. EcoSteam ES-20 Advanced Control for Residential Steam boilers. Rectorseal Steamaster water treatment
  • Gordy
    Gordy Member Posts: 9,514
    Hard wiring a boiler to a disconnect is a code requirement in my area.

    Dryers come with power cords, and disposals have the optional cord to go hard wire, or plug in.

    The whole issue is like any other lock out, tag out. The linemen need protected.
  • ChrisJ
    ChrisJ Member Posts: 11,973
    edited January 2016
    Gordy said:

    Hard wiring a boiler to a disconnect is a code requirement in my area.

    Dryers come with power cords, and disposals have the optional cord to go hard wire, or plug in.

    The whole issue is like any other lock out, tag out. The linemen need protected.

    It's a shame no one makes a double throw main breaker.
    Does anyone make a setup using a DPDT relay with normally open contacts wired to the incoming manis as well as the coil wired to the mains? This would make the relay close and connect power to the house when the power is on, but open and connect a generator connection when the power is off. No in betweens, no accidents.

    Unless I'm missing something but it seems like it'd work and be very safe,


    And you're right. The linemen have enough problems on their hands trying to get the power on during horrible conditions without someone trying to cook them.
    Single pipe quasi-vapor system. Typical operating pressure 0.14 - 0.43 oz. EcoSteam ES-20 Advanced Control for Residential Steam boilers. Rectorseal Steamaster water treatment
  • Gordy
    Gordy Member Posts: 9,514
    Usually when back up generators are installed a permit is pulled, and proper automatic transfer, and disconnect are installed to code, and local utility requirements.

    Where this thread has gone is an under the radar approach. Not recommended. One slip up could cost you big money in fines, and or physical harm loss of life.

    When these type of threads appear I cringe. You never know the capabilities of a lurker.
  • ChrisJ
    ChrisJ Member Posts: 11,973
    Gordy said:

    Usually when back up generators are installed a permit is pulled, and proper automatic transfer, and disconnect are installed to code, and local utility requirements.

    Where this thread has gone is an under the radar approach. Not recommended. One slip up could cost you big money in fines, and or physical harm loss of life.

    When these type of threads appear I cringe. You never know the capabilities of a lurker.

    Curious how an automatic transfer works.
    The beef i have with all of the transfer switches I've seen is they have a limited amount of circuits, rather than transferring the entire panel.

    I much prefer the lockout method using an interlock. I love having a Square D QO panel. :)
    Single pipe quasi-vapor system. Typical operating pressure 0.14 - 0.43 oz. EcoSteam ES-20 Advanced Control for Residential Steam boilers. Rectorseal Steamaster water treatment
  • Jamie Hall
    Jamie Hall Member Posts: 17,059
    Gordy said:

    Usually when back up generators are installed a permit is pulled, and proper automatic transfer, and disconnect are installed to code, and local utility requirements.

    Where this thread has gone is an under the radar approach. Not recommended. One slip up could cost you big money in fines, and or physical harm loss of life.

    When these type of threads appear I cringe. You never know the capabilities of a lurker.

    You cringe? I'm horrified.

    In answer to @ChrisJ 's question about a double throw relay main breaker and so on -- that's exactly what an automatic transfer switch does. Not a bad description, in fact. A manual transfer switch does much the same thing, only it has to be pulled over by hand -- and is quite a bit cheaper. Both of them have one required characteristic: they break one circuit before they make the other one. Further, they are equipped with arc suppression devices.

    May I remind folks -- particularly any lurkers -- that there are reasons why things are the way they are in codes. In plumbing codes, you can get wet, you can get sick. In electrical codes, though, you or someone else can be killed in an instant.
    Br. Jamie, osb
    Building superintendent/caretaker, 7200 sq. ft. historic house museum with dependencies in New England
  • rickgerv
    rickgerv Member Posts: 22
    I agree Gordy. Sounds like the best option is to fork over thousands to an automatic generator. This is what my electrician quoted. But I couldn't believe the price tag. It's the same price as my oil to gas conversion and I can't afford it. Looks like I will have to take my chances and hope we don't lose power. i also have a sump pump which has no backup. That is also a concern. I simply want to back up my heating system and sump pump. I can live without a fridge, tv etc.
  • hot_rod
    hot_rod Member Posts: 15,023
    Gordy said:

    Usually when back up generators are installed a permit is pulled, and proper automatic transfer, and disconnect are installed to code, and local utility requirements.

    Where this thread has gone is an under the radar approach. Not recommended. One slip up could cost you big money in fines, and or physical harm loss of life.

    When these type of threads appear I cringe. You never know the capabilities of a lurker.


    Pretty much any thread involving a DIYer or HO here has this potential.

    In this business we deal with fire, pressure, electricity, steam, fuels, flue gas, etc. All have the potential to cause harm and should be under the care of a qualified, insured professional.
    Bob "hot rod" Rohr
    trainer for Caleffi NA
    Living the hydronic dream
  • ChrisJ
    ChrisJ Member Posts: 11,973
    rickgerv said:

    I agree Gordy. Sounds like the best option is to fork over thousands to an automatic generator. This is what my electrician quoted. But I couldn't believe the price tag. It's the same price as my oil to gas conversion and I can't afford it. Looks like I will have to take my chances and hope we don't lose power. i also have a sump pump which has no backup. That is also a concern. I simply want to back up my heating system and sump pump. I can live without a fridge, tv etc.

    Sump pumps can be manually plugged into a generator using extension cords.

    This is the original reason my generator was bought, it wasn't for heat it was to keep the basement from flooding.

    Single pipe quasi-vapor system. Typical operating pressure 0.14 - 0.43 oz. EcoSteam ES-20 Advanced Control for Residential Steam boilers. Rectorseal Steamaster water treatment
  • ChrisJ
    ChrisJ Member Posts: 11,973
    edited January 2016
    hot rod said:

    Gordy said:

    Usually when back up generators are installed a permit is pulled, and proper automatic transfer, and disconnect are installed to code, and local utility requirements.

    Where this thread has gone is an under the radar approach. Not recommended. One slip up could cost you big money in fines, and or physical harm loss of life.

    When these type of threads appear I cringe. You never know the capabilities of a lurker.


    Pretty much any thread involving a DIYer or HO here has this potential.

    In this business we deal with fire, pressure, electricity, steam, fuels, flue gas, etc. All have the potential to cause harm and should be under the care of a qualified, insured professional.
    Like the one that almost killed me and my family in 2011.
    No thanks.

    Anytime I hear that it makes me cringe. In fact, this time I even dry heaved a little.
    Single pipe quasi-vapor system. Typical operating pressure 0.14 - 0.43 oz. EcoSteam ES-20 Advanced Control for Residential Steam boilers. Rectorseal Steamaster water treatment
  • KC_Jones
    KC_Jones Member Posts: 4,827
    No one at the POCO is licensed or insured to do anything, but they can control a whole lot including what a professional does. I worked for the power company for 7 years, according to some of the comments I am reading I shouldn't do anything with electricity since I am not "licensed" even though I know inside and out how to hook these systems up since I used to design them. I will just go back to being a "stupid" HO.
    2014 Weil Mclain EG-40
    EcoSteam ES-20 Advanced Boiler Control
    Boiler pictures updated 2/21/15
  • Fred
    Fred Member Posts: 8,518
    Wow, this thread has taken on a life of its own since yesterday! All good points to be wary of but the fact remains Generators are sold at every big box store, every hardware, every Discount store, etc. No one asks for a license, ID, qualifications or anything else. The manufacturer and/or retailers are not police and this site should not be either. Of course everyone needs to be responsible posters, warn people of any known risk BUT let users decide if they have the skills necessary to act on the information provided. We see many Posters say "I need a Pro" for that, it's over my head" . We all also know Pro or HO, competence is always suspect. Just my 2 cents.
  • SWEI
    SWEI Member Posts: 7,356
    edited January 2016
    Many residential load centers can easily be retrofitted with a manual generator interlock kit. This ties two breakers (the main and an adjacent double pole branch breaker) together in such a way that they can both be off, either can be on, but not both can be on.

    http://www.homedepot.com/s/generator%20interlock%20kit
    ChrisJ
  • hot_rod
    hot_rod Member Posts: 15,023
    ChrisJ said:

    hot rod said:

    Gordy said:

    Usually when back up generators are installed a permit is pulled, and proper automatic transfer, and disconnect are installed to code, and local utility requirements.

    Where this thread has gone is an under the radar approach. Not recommended. One slip up could cost you big money in fines, and or physical harm loss of life.

    When these type of threads appear I cringe. You never know the capabilities of a lurker.


    Pretty much any thread involving a DIYer or HO here has this potential.

    In this business we deal with fire, pressure, electricity, steam, fuels, flue gas, etc. All have the potential to cause harm and should be under the care of a qualified, insured professional.
    Like the one that almost killed me and my family in 2011.
    No thanks.

    Anytime I hear that it makes me cringe. In fact, this time I even dry heaved a little.

    Apparently you misunderstood the word qualified? If a homeowner is qualified to own, operate, and understand the workings of a combustion analyzer, for example, go for it. same with a generator I suppose.

    Any trades person you hire to protect you and your family, should be qualified and I feel insured should an accident or mistake occur.

    I do a lot, most, of my own work and take responsibility for it and am aware of the consequences.
    Bob "hot rod" Rohr
    trainer for Caleffi NA
    Living the hydronic dream
  • KC_Jones
    KC_Jones Member Posts: 4,827
    I will go one step further and say I think the good pros should embrace these types of posts. Think about it this way, this is how you get the word out about the proper way to install equipment instead of the hack way. People say cringe I say smile. Look at the OP's reaction, they now realize why it costs so much to do this correctly. If we don't forward the best practices how do homeowner know what is right from wrong? How do we stop from being taken for a ride versus paying for what is right? It is talked about all the time how nearly impossible it is for a homeowner to vet out a contractor and these types of posts educate us on what is correct. Sorry to hijack, it just gets frustrating when all any of us is trying to do is keep our head above water and sometimes it feels like people are trying to drown us.
    2014 Weil Mclain EG-40
    EcoSteam ES-20 Advanced Boiler Control
    Boiler pictures updated 2/21/15
  • Mark N
    Mark N Member Posts: 1,090
    edited January 2016
    Since there is a potential for danger to the linemen, isn't it best to determine the line is dead before working on it. I myself would think any wire should be considered to be live until it is determined it is not.
  • ChrisJ
    ChrisJ Member Posts: 11,973
    Mark N said:

    Since there is a potential for danger to the linemen, isn't it best to determine the line is dead before working on it. I myself would think any wire should be considered to be live until it is determined it is not.

    Let's say he determined it was dead, and why it was dead and started his work and 5 minutes in a homeowner accidentally connected a generator to the line he was working on.


    Single pipe quasi-vapor system. Typical operating pressure 0.14 - 0.43 oz. EcoSteam ES-20 Advanced Control for Residential Steam boilers. Rectorseal Steamaster water treatment
  • ChrisJ
    ChrisJ Member Posts: 11,973
    hot rod said:

    ChrisJ said:

    hot rod said:

    Gordy said:

    Usually when back up generators are installed a permit is pulled, and proper automatic transfer, and disconnect are installed to code, and local utility requirements.

    Where this thread has gone is an under the radar approach. Not recommended. One slip up could cost you big money in fines, and or physical harm loss of life.

    When these type of threads appear I cringe. You never know the capabilities of a lurker.


    Pretty much any thread involving a DIYer or HO here has this potential.

    In this business we deal with fire, pressure, electricity, steam, fuels, flue gas, etc. All have the potential to cause harm and should be under the care of a qualified, insured professional.
    Like the one that almost killed me and my family in 2011.
    No thanks.

    Anytime I hear that it makes me cringe. In fact, this time I even dry heaved a little.

    Apparently you misunderstood the word qualified? If a homeowner is qualified to own, operate, and understand the workings of a combustion analyzer, for example, go for it. same with a generator I suppose.

    Any trades person you hire to protect you and your family, should be qualified and I feel insured should an accident or mistake occur.

    I do a lot, most, of my own work and take responsibility for it and am aware of the consequences.
    No, I noticed you included "insured professional.".
    The licensed professional I hired claimed he was qualified. How was I to know any different?

    "qual·i·fied
    ˈkwäləˌfīd/Submit
    adjective
    1.
    officially recognized as being trained to perform a particular job; certified."
    Single pipe quasi-vapor system. Typical operating pressure 0.14 - 0.43 oz. EcoSteam ES-20 Advanced Control for Residential Steam boilers. Rectorseal Steamaster water treatment
  • ChrisJ
    ChrisJ Member Posts: 11,973

    ChrisJ said:



    a homeowner accidentally connected a generator to the line he was working on.


    .........deliberately connected.............
    I doubt it would be deliberate.
    Anything is possible, but we were discussing how a mistake could kill someone.
    Single pipe quasi-vapor system. Typical operating pressure 0.14 - 0.43 oz. EcoSteam ES-20 Advanced Control for Residential Steam boilers. Rectorseal Steamaster water treatment