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    My generator and home automation experience

    All,

    From time to time someone on this or other popular HA boards asks about the use of a generator with home automation and other electronic equipment (I've asked several times myself). We finally installed a generator system last year and we're having a chance to test it today as Hurricane Irene caused widespread power outages last night in eastern PA. Here is my experience, for anyone that might find it helpful and one day finds this via a search. Others may feel free to post their experiences and advice in this thread as well, of course.

    First, let me point out that my system is NOT automatic. After evaluating the frequency of outages we have (not that many each year), our need for and ability to switch to backup heating and cooling (a pellet stove in the family room and a small AC for the MBR), and our ability to switch over to generator power manually (we're usually either here or have a house sitter if traveling), we just couldn't talk ourselves into the $8K - $15K expense of a fully automatic system. While those systems are very convenient and generally supply very clean power, our personal decision was to go with a large "portable" generator, connected to the house via a convenience outlet which in turn is connected back to the main panel via a safety switch / interlock kit (Note: An approved type of safety mechanism MUST be installed in or beside the panel to ensure no power can be fed back to the utility when the generator is running. This prevents the generator from being connected back to the utility and is absolutely essential for safety of utility workers trying to restore power! It is also a legal and code requirement! NEVER operate a generator connected to the panel without a fail-safe type of generator isolation in place!). So, my experience is intended primarily for benefit of those thinking of installing a portable generator, as the automatic systems are likely even less of a problem.

    I researched portable generators for weeks. My requirement was at least 7500 running watts and 10,000 starting watts, a tank that would go at least 10 (preferably more) hours at 50% load, and relatively clean power. This last requirement was VERY difficult to evaluate based on manufacturer specs. The only portable generators I found that "guaranteed" clean power were much smaller than I needed, and I finally took a leap of faith after reading many, many customer reviews on the 'net.

    I finally went with a Generac 8000XPE. Many people seemed to be "down" on the Generac brand despite its widespread use, but the reviews for this particular unit seemed much better, with several individuals reporting that it worked well with their HD tvs, tool battery chargers, and other electronics, unlike their prior experiences with portable generators. It also offered 8K running watts and 12K starting, and is supposed to run 12 hours on a 9 gallon tank of gas. Note: this can likely be converted to natural gas or propane with an after-market modification kit, and I'm thinking of doing this. If others have tried that, I'd like to hear about it.

    My experience to date (about 6 hours in):
    • All computers in the house (including the XP box that currently runs my HS system WITHOUT a UPS or other filter on it b/c that UPS died a few weeks back and I haven't replaced it yet) seem to run perfectly, as do our Fios (Motorola) DVRs and set top boxes.
    • All TVs and AV are also working perfectly.
    • UPS units on other computers (we have a large home office) are working well along with the printers / fax (which are not on a UPS or filter). The very large UPS purchased for a past server - that I have repurposed to back up the Elk and ISY - is also fine.
    • The router and two switches (also connected to the large server UPS) are fine and we have full internet and LAN access.
    • The Elk and ISY (I use Insteon) are both fine and reachable over the network without problem.
    • ISY switches connected directly to a load work without problem, including many that are powering CFLs (including dimmable CFLs).
    • Only problem found to date: The Insteon system is completely unusable in terms of communicating. Switches won't talk to other switches (even on the same circuit) and the PLM can't communicate with switches. When pressed, you can see the LED blinking for several seconds as it tries to communicate, but I think there is just too much interference on the line. I do not, however, think the switches are in any was damaged as we tried this generator for a few minutes on a previous occasion, with no long-term problems.

    So... If others are thinking of installing a portable generator with a HA system, I can tell you that my experience has been positive except for the Insteon signalling, which I am willing to do without for a few days if it saves me a few thousand $$. I hope you found this information useful, and look forward to other posts in the thread.

    UPDATE 9/3/11

    Re: the Insteon switches, we did find some minor but apparently correctable problems. One switch (Icon relay) wouldn't turn on, and had to be reset (pull the little button at the bottom, wait, push back in). Another wouldn't turn off (another Icon relay) AND somehow wouldn't power the bathroom fan it was connected to properly (appeared to be passing through only a portion of the current, as the fan was trying to run, but couldn't). Power to it had to be turned off and left off for over an hour, but when restored switch is fine. Haven't found other problems but will explore more this weekend. It's a bit of a nuisance, but apparently no lasting damage.

    Re: computers, an interesting experience. We have three small UPS devices, two powering office computers and another serving as the backup for the Verizon router and FIOS box (yes, I know that has its own battery, but the router doesn't). We found that these three UPS devices absolutely hate the Generac power quality. As in, won't charge, and constantly cycling on and off. But another computer, not on a UPS, was running fine. We disconnected one of the office computers from the UPS device, and it ran fine. Tried the same with the other, with the same result. They survived the 4 days we were without power with no apparent problems, but the UPS devices just wouldn't run on the Generac. Hmmmm... Now I need to see if there's something I can install in-line to clean up the power. As far as I can tell, though, this system is still a good value compared to an automated, whole house system if you don't mind the manual aspect of it and having to refuel with gas. Re: this latter item, we may switch it to propane via a conversion kit.
    Last edited by Madcodger; September 3, 2011, 08:24 AM. Reason: UPDATE
    Madcodger

    This would be a lot easier if I knew what I was doing...

    #2
    Excellent info, Macdodger. After going through Katrina, we now have a portable generator and I can power the 'essentials' - refrigerators, TV, internet and a few lights. My HA is completely down during this time.

    My wife and I have planned to re-do our service entry panel to add more circuits and install a transfer switch so that we can use this generator to power just a handful of essential circuits - with the safety switch installed to prevent back-feeding the supply.

    Hope you guys arent down too long - take care...
    HS4Pro Running on a Raspberry Pi4
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    Comment


      #3
      Yes, great info!

      Good luck folks and be safe!

      Think of the Homeseer folks here as your extended HA family!
      - Pete

      Auto mator
      Homeseer 3 Pro - 3.0.0.548 (Linux) - Ubuntu 18.04/W7e 64 bit Intel Haswell CPU 16Gb- Mono 6.12.X - HSTouch on Intel tabletop tablets
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      Comment


        #4
        I have the Generac full auto system it does the whole house 8kw output and I have all zwave. it works as well without a hitch

        Thom

        Comment


          #5
          well i have had an odd experience... within the last 3 years i have gotten to a point where im tired of being cheap. My wife usually convinces me to get the cheaper of something... well our Corolla NC vacation was cut short due to irene.... well we got home and went to home depot.. i know i know.. but still we bought AA, AAA and ryobi tek4 stuff.. wow that stuff is NICE... http://www.ryobitools.com/catalog/tek4

          anyway.. extended gutters...

          i figured we are good to go.. they had no generators.. of course...
          but i found power inverters.. dc to ac...

          well rain hits.. sump pump is fine... at 9am power goes out.. i keep checking my sump as our finished basement flooded before...
          well were ok at 9pm... but then it hits... help my neighbor get his sumps running on inverter... and he is good.. but then my sump needs to run as it is creeping up.... and up...
          well i get my inverter.. hookup the silverado with it and run an extension cord.. well it wont work.. my sump pump is too big and drawing too much power.. i tried everything... eventually im tired, soaking wet and frustrated... really frustrated as it worked for my neighbor but he has smaller pumps... yes he is running 2... my 3rd neighbor that bought one of these inverters doesnt get water in his basement and doesnt even have a pump.. he is "Chilling" with a martini, fan, tv and cable box all running on that inverter...
          i am defeated.. tell the wife to get my xbox 360, kinnect upstairs, gaming pc and anything else important...

          as i walk back out in the rain my other neighbor flashes a flashlight at me... i walk over and tell him what is going on.. he has a 3500w generator in his garage.. tells me to hookup cords and try it.. i told him the power will drop and may not work.. he told me to try.. so i did.. and viola.. i ended up staying up all night in his garage... 2 minutes run time.. shut off for 10 inutes (we didnt have alot of gas and it needed to last)...
          so next day i tell the wife to call home depot back and see if they had the watchdog battery backup sump kit.. usually when power is out and people want sumps they dont buy them as they are expensive (relatively) and have to be charged.... she calls and the lady says they have generators...
          wife comes back, hands me keys, wallet, free financing for 12 months at home depot and off i go....

          i didnt get to look into this and research it at all.. i checked HD website and dont see it.. briggs and stratton 5000w generator with 6250w surge.
          4 x 110 outlet plugs and 1 x 240v that you can get a converter plug to adapt 240v to 4 x 110v plugs....

          i used it and was impressed with it... I do not see HA needing to be up in these situations and cant vouch for a full blown kit either....
          still going to put a battery backup sump in cuz then when the wife says power is out.. i can hand the kids the ryobi tek4 utility lights and tell them to go to sleep. wakeup knowing i got to sleep that the sump worked and then get the generator up and running... wow that would be relaxing... in 8 years power has only gone out once for more than 4 hrs so i had a tough time buying this too..

          my generator hd p/n was 030422


          im wondering if there is a safe and legal way to hookup a portable generator to say a box you install next to the panel to supply the power it generates back in... that way you dont have to run extension cords.. you just shutoff breakers you dont want to run and have it operate all that stuff.....
          HW - i5 4570T @2.9ghz runs @11w | 8gb ram | 128gb ssd OS - Win10 x64

          HS - HS3 Pro Edition 3.0.0.435

          Plugins - BLRF 2.0.94.0 | Concord 4 3.1.13.10 | HSBuddy 3.9.605.5 | HSTouch Server 3.0.0.68 | RFXCOM 30.0.0.36 | X10 3.0.0.36 | Z-Wave 3.0.1.190

          Hardware - EdgePort/4 DB9 Serial | RFXCOM 433MHz USB Transceiver | Superbus 2000 for Concord 4 | TI103 X-10 Interface | WGL Designs W800 RF | Z-Net Z-Wave Interface

          Comment


            #6
            Since we are talking about costs....

            I was wondering what some ball park figures are to do something. I've only got one main breaker box, and what I want to do is be able to either switch everything over to a generator, or if I can't afford that big a generator to switch some selective circuits (refrigerators, furnace fan, and a few overhead lights) over to a generator. How much are the electrical mods going to run me?

            Steve

            Comment


              #7
              i know someone who has an automated unit. they have a florida house and ny house... the ny house got a $8k setup.. not sure how large.. but installed that was the bill.. it will run the entire house and all contents.. runs off natural gas...

              my measly 5k generator portable just ran me $600 plus 7% tax.... didnt want to buy it but i did... now just have 12 months to pay it off!!!!


              *********
              edited...

              quick google got me this...
              http://www.bsapowersolutions.com/index.php
              HW - i5 4570T @2.9ghz runs @11w | 8gb ram | 128gb ssd OS - Win10 x64

              HS - HS3 Pro Edition 3.0.0.435

              Plugins - BLRF 2.0.94.0 | Concord 4 3.1.13.10 | HSBuddy 3.9.605.5 | HSTouch Server 3.0.0.68 | RFXCOM 30.0.0.36 | X10 3.0.0.36 | Z-Wave 3.0.1.190

              Hardware - EdgePort/4 DB9 Serial | RFXCOM 433MHz USB Transceiver | Superbus 2000 for Concord 4 | TI103 X-10 Interface | WGL Designs W800 RF | Z-Net Z-Wave Interface

              Comment


                #8
                For the DIY (electrical) person I priced a drop ship / pallet 14KW generac at about $3500-4000 for a natural gas generator with an automatic transfer switch. In addition I need a separate gas regulator which the gas company would install for free. I guess the most difficult piece both related to time and money would be which circuits to take to the transfer switch. Ideally but expensive would be to use a commercial UPS on some circuits; that mix is not that easy though for a DIY person. I have picked where the footprint would be and they are quiet these days; probably a bit louder than the AC compressor adjacent to the spot.

                My brother-in-law picked up a smaller on wheels generator a few weeks back. It took care of some necessities all night on one tank of gas. He used a few extension cords back to the house from the generator.

                Here it would be keeping the AC going (WAF thing). It is on the list; especially with the poor electrical QOS this past summer. Historically where I lived in the midwest for 30 years; had less than 10 outages which lasted more than 20 minutes or so in 30 years; here a brand new subdivision its almost a weekly occurance and the local electrical company is pushing to increase their rates something like 60%.

                http://www.amazon.com/Generac-Guardi.../dp/B003JH8QWK

                http://www.norwall.com/
                Last edited by Pete; August 29, 2011, 02:27 PM.
                - Pete

                Auto mator
                Homeseer 3 Pro - 3.0.0.548 (Linux) - Ubuntu 18.04/W7e 64 bit Intel Haswell CPU 16Gb- Mono 6.12.X - HSTouch on Intel tabletop tablets
                Homeseer Zee2 (Lite) - 3.0.0.548 (Linux) - Ubuntu 18.04/W7e - CherryTrail x5-Z8350 BeeLink 4Gb BT3 Pro - Mono 6.12.X
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                X10, UPB, Zigbee, ZWave and Wifi MQTT automation-Tasmota-Espurna. OmniPro 2, Russound zoned audio, Smartthings hub, Hubitat Hub, and Home Assistant

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                  #9
                  Originally posted by TeleFragger View Post
                  w
                  im wondering if there is a safe and legal way to hookup a portable generator to say a box you install next to the panel to supply the power it generates back in... that way you dont have to run extension cords.. you just shutoff breakers you dont want to run and have it operate all that stuff.....
                  Yep - it's a generator transfer switch. They have them at HD and at Harbor Freight. They are somewhat expensive and requires an electrician to install *and* you have to make sure it is installed with saftey mechanism in place so you dont back-feed the commercial power supply.

                  Glad you made it through, TF...
                  HS4Pro Running on a Raspberry Pi4
                  68 Z-Wave Nodes, 175 Events, 359 Devices
                  UPB modules via OMNI plugin/panel
                  Plugins: Z-Wave, OMNI, HSTouch, weatherXML, EasyTrigger
                  HSTouch Clients: 3 Android, 1 Joggler

                  Comment


                    #10
                    Another thing you have to be careful with is the surge and dirty power and what it can do to your electrical stuff (really a Saftey issue); its not really something to play around with or mickey mouse.

                    Best to have a professional do it; even a simple transfer switch / connectivity if not done right can be very unsafe.

                    Good news that you and your family are OK TF.

                    Next door neighbors in FL that went back to their home in NJ lost power and their newly finished basement. They live close to the Hudson River. They still don't have electric as of yesterday.
                    - Pete

                    Auto mator
                    Homeseer 3 Pro - 3.0.0.548 (Linux) - Ubuntu 18.04/W7e 64 bit Intel Haswell CPU 16Gb- Mono 6.12.X - HSTouch on Intel tabletop tablets
                    Homeseer Zee2 (Lite) - 3.0.0.548 (Linux) - Ubuntu 18.04/W7e - CherryTrail x5-Z8350 BeeLink 4Gb BT3 Pro - Mono 6.12.X
                    HS4 Pro - V4.1.17.0 - Ubuntu 20.01/VB W7e 64 bit Intel Kaby Lake CPU - 32Gb - Mono
                    6.12.0.122
                    HS4 Lite -

                    X10, UPB, Zigbee, ZWave and Wifi MQTT automation-Tasmota-Espurna. OmniPro 2, Russound zoned audio, Smartthings hub, Hubitat Hub, and Home Assistant

                    Comment


                      #11
                      Originally posted by stevea View Post
                      I was wondering what some ball park figures are to do something. I've only got one main breaker box, and what I want to do is be able to either switch everything over to a generator, or if I can't afford that big a generator to switch some selective circuits (refrigerators, furnace fan, and a few overhead lights) over to a generator. How much are the electrical mods going to run me?
                      Steve,
                      Here's a web site with some rough estimates. Their numbers are consistent with what I've seen advertised, although they don't mention natural gas, which is the fuel of choice if you've got access to it. A lot depends on how much wiring you need done. Installing a sub-panel can add hundreds to a thousand in this area.

                      If you've got an energy monitor you should have a pretty good read on your peak electricity use and what the big hitters are (AC, electric oven, lighting in our house). Despite what the web site says, a 12KW generator should handle a large fraction of the needs of a typical house, especially if you are careful about what gets turned on at the same time. We excluded the AC and the oven, but even with those running it is very unusual for our electricity use to go above 12 KW.
                      Mike____________________________________________________________ __________________
                      HS3 Pro Edition 3.0.0.548, NUC i3

                      HW: Stargate | NX8e | CAV6.6 | Squeezebox | PCS | WGL 800RF | RFXCOM | Vantage Pro | Green-Eye | Edgeport/8 | Way2Call | Ecobee3 | EtherRain | Ubiquiti

                      Comment


                        #12
                        PS. Although the generator power is noisier than what we get from the power company, I've had no problems with any device when powered by the generator. I have all my non-laptop computers and associated equipment on UPS to keep them powered up until the transfer switch connects the generator. Because some of my devices don't reconnect to HS reliably after losing power, I also have HS restart a minute after the transfer switch activates.
                        Mike____________________________________________________________ __________________
                        HS3 Pro Edition 3.0.0.548, NUC i3

                        HW: Stargate | NX8e | CAV6.6 | Squeezebox | PCS | WGL 800RF | RFXCOM | Vantage Pro | Green-Eye | Edgeport/8 | Way2Call | Ecobee3 | EtherRain | Ubiquiti

                        Comment


                          #13
                          I have a Generac 5500 watt portable generator (8250 startup watts) which I have owned for 7 years. Before this year, I used it a whopping 3 times for a total of less than 3 hours. This year was the exception. The last 2 months, we lost power twice both for 3 days. (Never has it been so bad) The generator started up immediately and I had extension cords all over the house to 3 fridges, 2 tvs and the cable, 4 rooms of lights, sump pump, furnace and the garage door. I ran the generator each night until 1am and then shut it down until 7am (being considerate to the neighbors).

                          Before the 2nd storm, I spent $300 on a GenTran Model 3026 Generator Transfer Switch. It was easy to install and took less than 2 hours to hook up 8 circuits to it. Now when there is a storm, all I do is start up the generator, hook up the 10-4 cable to the Transfer switch and generator, and turn on each switch one at a time. I have backup power within 5 minutes.

                          I do not know if my insteon or X-10 system works when the power goes out because I don't have my computers hooked up to the transfer switch box.

                          The only disadvantage I see is the price of gas to run the generator. What happen when the price of gas was $1.25 a gallon? It can become very costly to run, but it is a lot cheaper than having a flooded basement or ending up going to a hotel due to not having power or heat.

                          Comment


                            #14
                            I have a Generac 14KW auto transfer NG that I got from HD 2 years ago. I did the install, except for the gas hookup. The transfer switch mounts next to the service panel and is pre wired. You just disconnect the circuit in the service panel and wire nut it to the color coded and marked wires from the switch. The switch is also pre wired from the switch to the generator. That generator is $3500. I probably spend $200 or so in the gas line install and inspection (I paid an electrician to do an inspection of my work, even though not required by county code).

                            I'm not running AC, but sump pump, water pump, water heater, furnace, frig, freezer, lights in main areas and of course my media closet. Running HS, X-10, Z-wave, cable modem and router with no problems. I do think I might have gone up a size so I could run AC, but the majority of our outages are in the winter.

                            What I like most about the auto transfer is that the generator comes on even if we aren't at home. I consider it a great investment, although I have to admit it was my wife who insisted we install it.

                            We have only lost power for a half dozen times in the two years and the longest was a day. But I'm confident it would run as long as needed.

                            Glad everyone is save.
                            Barry

                            Comment


                              #15
                              Originally posted by Uncle Michael View Post
                              PS. Although the generator power is noisier than what we get from the power company, I've had no problems with any device when powered by the generator. I have all my non-laptop computers and associated equipment on UPS to keep them powered up until the transfer switch connects the generator. Because some of my devices don't reconnect to HS reliably after losing power, I also have HS restart a minute after the transfer switch activates.
                              UM,

                              What kind of Generator did you get? Have you looked at the output with a scope? Just information gathering...we'll be putting our cash towards a driveway this year.

                              --Dan
                              Tasker, to a person who does Homeautomation...is like walking up to a Crack Treatment facility with a truck full of 3lb bags of crack. Then for each person that walks in and out smack them in the face with an open bag.

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